New Utah Medical Directive (Previously Called a Living Will)

by Russ Mitchell

You are probably familiar with the phrase “living will” as referring to a document setting out the nature of medical care you would like to receive if you become sick or injured to the extent you are unable to provide such direction. When you cannot speak for yourself, health care providers will work to preserve life. This may include administering resuscitation or using respirators, feeding tubes, IVs, pain medication, antibiotics, etc. A health care provider may do this even if you are only being kept alive by the use of medical equipment, perhaps no longer recognizing family or being able to communicate.

You may prefer not to be kept alive under such conditions. The living will document was designed to enable you to give direction to health care providers to discontinue use of medical equipment or other care, including a “do-not-resuscitate” order, when certain conditions are met. In addition, you may appoint an agent to make health care-related decisions for you when you cannot make decisions for yourself (sometimes called a health care power of attorney). Such an agent can, on your behalf if you are incapacitated, make decisions about medical care, consult with physicians about prognosis and diagnosis, and make other decisions about discharge from the hospital or admittance into a long-term care facility.

Over the years, some health care providers have, on occasion, challenged the right of an agent to act on a person’s behalf in directing medical care. Because of the cost, the agent would not fight the provider. Therefore, the person’s health care directive would be ignored. The Utah legislature determined that this should not be so, and it passed laws that  require health providers to abide by the directive of a person if that person uses a particular form developed by the legislature. This form, called a “medical directive,” requires health care providers to pay the attorney’s fees and costs of the agent who fights to enforce the medical directive. This is a strong incentive for health care providers to abide by the terms and conditions of the medical directive.

The key part of a medical directive is to set forth your desire that you do not want to prolong life in certain situations where you are being kept alive by medical equipment. The medical directive has several options that allow you to be quite specific about when you want medical treatment to be withheld. However, no matter what is stated in the medical directive, it is only effective when you are unable to express yourself competently. As long as you are able to give direction to health care providers, whatever you want to have done takes control over the medical directive.

This article is not intended to be legal advice. Receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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