Living Wills and Health Care Directives

A living will is a written declaration or statement that a person may make indicating his or her desire that certain medical treatment be either withheld or withdrawn under certain circumstances.  Missouri has enacted a statute indicating the form that a living will can take. 

While most people have heard of living wills, many are unaware of the limitations of living wills under Missouri law. In other words, the patient will die shortly with or without artificial resuscitation, use of a ventilator, artificially supplied nutrition and hydration or other invasive surgical procedures.  Therefore, by definition, a living will only avoids treatment when death is imminent and the treatment is ineffective to avoid or significantly delay death.

For people who desire to give instructions for their health care which exceed the limitations of Missouri’s living will statute, there is an alternative, commonly referred to as “advance directives.”  An advance directive is an instruction by a person as to the withholding or withdrawing of certain medical treatment in advance of the person suffering a condition which renders that person unable to refuse such treatment.  Subject to any public policy issues, courts have generally indicated that people have the right to make advance directives which exceed the limitations of a living will statute.  Those directives need to be “clear and convincing,” and may include instructions to withhold or withdraw artificially supplied nutrition and hydration or other treatment or machinery which may maintain a patient in a persistent vegetative state.  These expanded advance directives can be tailored to meet the needs and desires of each individual patient, and need not be in any standard form. 

For more information on living wills and advanced directives, please ask for our brochure titled “Understanding the Basics of Living Wills and Advanced Directives.”