A healthcare directive is a document that authorizes the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining medical treatment. Healthcare directives are also called “living wills”. The primary purpose of a healthcare directive is to provide instructions to whomever you designate as your attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney (click here for more information on a power of attorney) regarding the withholding of life-sustaining artificial hydration and nutrition in certain circumstances.
The circumstances under which life-sustaining treatment would be withheld is limited. In order for life-sustaining treatment to be withheld:
- You must be diagnosed in writing to be in a terminal condition by the attending physician, or
- You must be in a permanent unconscious condition by two physicians, and
- Where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to artificially prolong the process of dying,
A terminal condition means an incurable and irreversible condition caused by injury, disease, or illness, that would within reasonable medical judgment cause death within a reasonable period of time in accordance with accepted medical standards, and where the application of life-sustaining treatment would serve only to prolong the process of dying.
A permanent unconscious condition means an incurable and irreversible condition in which you are medically assessed within reasonable medical judgment as having no reasonable probability of recovery from an irreversible coma or a persistent vegetative state.
In Washington, healthcare directives are specifically authorized by statute RCW 70.122.030. In fact, the statute even includes the form. If you plan to execute a healthcare directive, and you live in Washington, it is a good idea to use the statutory form because, if you do, it is less likely to be challenged.
You do not necessarily need an attorney to complete a healthcare directive and hospitals often provide the form to patients before surgery just in case. However, it is always a good idea to include a healthcare directive in any estate plan to make sure that your wishes regarding withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment will be recorded. We routinely include this form in almost every estate plan package that we prepare.