for life" but rather for death. In other words, instead of assuming that a now incompetent patient
would want to receive treatment and care in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, the
assumption has virtually become that since any "reasonable" person would want to exercise a
"right to die," treatment and care should be withheld or withdrawn unless there is evidence to the
contrary. The Will to Live is intended to maximize the chance of providing that evidence.
It is important to remember that you are writing a legal document, not holding a
conversation, and not writing a moral textbook. The language you or a religious or moral leader
might use in discussing what is and is not moral to refuse is, from a legal standpoint, often much
too vague. Therefore, it is subject to misunderstanding or deliberate abuse.
The person you appoint as your health care agent may understand general terms in the
same way you do. But remember that the person you appoint may die, or become incapacitated,
or simply be unavailable when decisions must be made about your health care. If any of these
happens, a court might appoint someone else you don't know in that person's place. Also
remember that since the agent has to follow the instructions you write in this form, a health care
provider could try to persuade a court that the agent isn't really following your wishes. A court
could overrule your agent's insistence on treatment in cases in which the court interprets any
vague language you put in your "Will to Live" less protectively than you meant it.
So, for example, do not simply say you don't want "extraordinary treatment." Whatever
the value of that language in moral discussions, there is so much debate over what it means
legally that it could be interpreted very broadly by a doctor or a court. For instance, it might be
interpreted to require starving you to death when you have a disability, even if you are in no
danger of death if you are fed.
For the same reason, do not use language rejecting treatment which has a phrase like
"excessive pain, expense or other excessive burden." Doctors and courts may have a very
different definition of what is "excessive" or a "burden" than you do. Do not use language that
rejects treatment that "does not offer a reasonable hope of benefit." "Benefit" is a legally vague
term. If you had a significant disability, a health care provider or court might think you would
want no medical treatment at all, since many doctors and judges unfortunately believe there is no
"benefit" to life with a severe disability.
What sort of language is specific enough if you wish to write exclusions? Here are some
examples of things you might--or might not--want to list under one or more of the "Special
Conditions" described on the form. Remember that any of these will prevent treatment ONLY
under the circumstances--such as when death is imminent--described in the "Special Condition"
you list it under. (The examples are not meant to be all inclusive--just samples of the type of
thing you might want to write.)