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The history behind the living will

A living will is a document that states to health care providers what type or types of treatment a person wishes to receive in the event he or she is deemed incapable of communicating about his or her desired medical treatment. It is normally made while a person is still of sound mind and competent enough to make an informed decision about their desired care.

Living wills are fairly standard now, but were once relatively new to the legal world. They first began appearing during the 20th century after the advancement of medical science provided new hope to individuals who otherwise would have passed due to their illness. As an example, those who would have normally passed away from kidney disease were given an opportunity to extend their life by having kidney dialysis or an organ transplant.

Unfortunately, with these new advancements came hard decisions that had to be made by family members should a loved one no longer be able to speak for themselves. The most notable case of this nature revolved around a woman named Karen Ann Quinlan, who was sustained for eight years by use of a respirator after she suffered irreversible brain damage. Her case came to national attention after her parents petitioned a New Jersey Court to remove her from life support.

Although Quinlan continued to live for another 10 years after she was removed from the respirator, the families plight brought about the state of California's desire to pass what became known as the "Natural Death Act." It was considered the first living will law, with other states soon following California's lead and creating their own laws.

Individuals who wish to learn more about living wills may find it beneficial to discuss their situation with an experienced attorney.

Source: FindLaw, "Should You Consider a Living Will?" accessed Jan. 21, 2015

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