Q: I heard there is a legal document called a Right To Die Form--something to the effect that if you become a vegetable it gives permission for your family or doctor to pull the plug. Do you know anything about this form?

A: You heard almost right...

The document to which you refer is a healthcare directive--known in various states as a Living Will, a Directive to Physicians or a Declaration. No matter what its name, a person making the document can set out in it wishes about what life-prolonging treatment should be withheld or provided if he or she becomes unable to communicate those wishes. A doctor who receives a properly signed and witnessed or notarized directive is under the duty either to honor its instructions, or to make sure the patient is transferred to the care of another doctor who will honor them.

Because healthcare directives sprung from the Right To Die movement in which the focus was dying without medical intervention, many people tend to think of them as documents appropriate only for directing that life-prolonging procedures should be withdrawn or withheld. However, these documents should more correctly be viewed as a way to direct doctors to provide you with whatever type of medical care you want, within reality and reason. For example, some people want to reinforce that they would like to receive all medical treatment that is available--and a healthcare directive is the proper place to specify that.

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