A living will is also sometimes referred to as an “advance medical directive”. It describes your direction as to whether you want to receive life-sustaining medical treatments if:
- you suffer from a terminal illness, an end-stage condition, or if you are in a persistent vegetative state;
- your physician and another treating physician have determined there is no reasonable medical probability that you will recover from such condition; and
- such life-sustaining medical treatments will only artificially prolong your process of dying.
For a living will to be valid in Florida, the principal must be competent to sign the living will and understand what he or she is signing at the time the living will is signed. The living will must also be signed by the principal, and by two witnesses to the principal’s signature. Each witness must be a competent person, who is at least 18 years old. At least one of the witnesses cannot be a spouse or a blood relative.
In Florida, from 1990 through 2020, courts in Florida and the federal court system were the battlegrounds of a heartrending family dispute as to whether Terry Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged Florida woman, had the right to die. After collapsing in 1990 from a full cardiac arrest that deprived her brain of oxygen, Ms. Schiavo was left comatose and kept alive by a feeding tube. After approximately two-and-a-half months without improvement, she was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. Ms. Schiavo did not have a living will.
In 1998, Ms. Schiavo’s husband petitioned the Sixth Circuit Court of Florida to remove her feeding tube pursuant to Florida law; and Ms. Schiavo’s parents opposed the petition. The court determined Ms. Schiavo would not have wanted to continue life-prolonging measures; and in April 2001, her feeding tube was removed, but reinserted only a several days later. In February 2005, a Pinellas County judge again ordered Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube removed. However, several appeals and federal government intervention followed. After appeals through the federal court system, the Pinellas Park hospice facility disconnected the feeding tube on March 18, 2005; and Ms. Schiavo died on March 31, 2005. The Schiavo case involved 14 appeals in the Florida courts; 5 suits in federal district court; extensive political intervention; and four denials of review from the United States Supreme Court.
Considering and making decisions about your possible disability or death are difficult endeavors. However, having a living will puts the choice for your care in your hands, and eases the burden to your family of what decision(s) should be made.
If you need help to prepare a living will, please contact our office to set up an appointment.