living will, legal document in which a person expresses in advance his or her wishes concerning the use of artificial life support, to be referred to should the person be unable to communicate such wishes at the end of life. A living will usually goes into effect only when two physicians certify that a patient is unable to make medical decisions and that the patient's medical circumstances are within the guidelines specified by the state's living-will law. Typically, living wills are used to direct loved ones and doctors to discontinue life-sustaining measures such as intravenous feeding, mechanical respirators, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation that the patient would reject were he or she able. Without clear and convincing evidence of a person's wishes (such as a living will), life support may be continued indefinitely because of hospital policies, fear of liability, or a doctor's moral beliefs, even if the family believes the patient's wishes would be otherwise. Living wills are often used in conjunction with a health-care proxy, which authorizes a previously chosen person to make health-care decisions in the event of incapacity. Most states have legislation authorizing living wills. See also euthanasia.
See publications of Choice in Dying.