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The problem with living wills

Most people know they should make out a living will, telling family members and others how you want to be treated in case you are incapacitated.

For instance, do you want your life to be prolonged using ventilators and feeding tubes, or do you want doctors to just let you go.

But -- a recent report from Kaiser Health News shows that people know they should state their preferences, or name a proxy to make those decisions for them, yet only about 37 percent actually do.

What if you have no idea?

One big reason for this reluctance is that people don't know what they want to happen, and they have a hard time envisioning being incapacitated. They're healthy, they eat right - why would they suddenly go into a coma?

The report quotes a soldier from the Iraq War who was required to write down on paper where he wanted his body sent if he were killed in battle or in an accident. Soldiers have an advantage over the rest of us. They understnd that life can end at any moment. Plus, they have the Army ordering them to fill out the form.

We're fortunate not to live dangerous lives, but every one of us is mortal. Incapacitation is never further away than a car speeding through an intersection.

Denial is a part of life

The Kaiser report said that people with serious ongoing illnesses like cancer or heart disease were barely more likely to fill out a living will than the rest of us. Denial is healthy in that we do not want to fixate morbidly on our demise.

But think of a living will as a favor to the people you love. If you are dying, it will help them to know what you think about keeping you alive if you:

  • Are in a vegetative state
  • Can only be kept alive via breathing and feeding tubes
  • Have suffered severe brain damage
  • Are too demented to understand what is happening to you

Whatever you decide is what's right

There is nothing wrong with whatever decision you make on a living will. But it is a mercy to your loved ones to know how you thought about this life-and-death issue. If you care for them, put it down on paper.

You can fill out a living will online, but they give you little leeway to describe the situation you foresee for yourself. A proper living will walks you through a number of scenarios and asks you to be specific about your wishes.

Is it fun?

No. But your family will love you for taking this onerous decision from them.

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The Law Offices of Kimberly Butler Rainen
21 Central Street
Andover, MA 01810

Phone: 978-494-6730
Phone: 978-409-1928
Fax: 978-849-8212
Map & Directions

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We are in a 1700s Colonial located on the intersection between Brook Street, Central Street and Essex Street in historic downtown Andover, Massachusetts. The parking lot entrance is located on Brook Street, which is a one-way. From Central, turn down Essex Street. Before reaching the railroad tracks, when you see the St. Augustine Church on your right, take a sharp left turn on to Brook Street, which will turn you back toward Central Street. As you ascend the hill back toward Central Street, you will see large stone pillars on either side of the entrance to our parking lot. We have assigned parking spaces numbered 7 and 10.

From the parking lot, you may take the stairs located on the rear, left-side of the building up to the garden area, where the foyer entrance to our office is located. You can also follow the sidewalk on Brook Street up to Central Street, walk along Central Street past the main house entrance (with a wrought iron gate across the walk way) to an opening in the wrought iron fence, in to the garden area where the foyer entrance to our office is located.