ATLANTA (GA) - The Department of Human Resources Division of Aging Services informs Georgians that under Georgia's law on Living Wills, when completing the forms they can choose for themselves the medical care they want when they are no longer able to communicate with doctors or family.
"People have the right to choose to either be kept alive for as long as possible or not to have their death prolonged," said Maria Greene, Director of the Division of Aging Services. "Therefore, it is very important that they think about the end of life, make their own decision, and discuss it with their family, friends and clergy or spiritual advisors. If they don't make a choice and let their wishes be known in writing, their physicians and family will be forced to decide for them."
Georgia's Living Will, first passed in 1984, was revised in 1992 to allow for withholding or withdrawing treatment while a person is in a persistent comatose or vegetative state. It also authorizes a person's doctor to withhold or withdraw certain medical procedures such as a respirator or ventilator in certain conditions. One is allowed to choose to accept or refuse artificial nutrition or hydration-feeding tubes.
The Living Will operates when a person: has a terminal condition; is in a persistent comatose condition (coma); or is in a persistent vegetative state. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, a more extensive health care instrument, allows one to appoint an agent to carry out many more medical treatment decisions and choose the kinds of medical treatment they want or don't want.
These decisions can include postponing and delaying death, just like the Living Will allows. Georgia law requires that two people witness you signing a Living Will. These witnesses must be: at least 18 years of age; not-related to you; not able to inherit from your estate; not be responsible for paying your medical bills; and, neither the first nor second witness can be your doctor or any employee of the hospital or nursing home from where you are being cared.
If you make a Living Will while a patient in a hospital or resident of a skilled nursing facility, a third witness is required who must be the medical director of the skilled nursing home or staff physician not participating in your care.
Once your Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care are signed, you should have several copies made. The originals should be kept with your other important papers, such as your Last Will and Testament. These papers should be kept in a place where someone can find them. Copies should be given to your family members and your doctors. These documents can be revoked at any time.
A Living Will or a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care allows you to retain control over your medical care, even if you are no longer able to communicate. Deciding about one of these documents should help you and your families rest easier, knowing that your wishes about your care are known.
The law does not require that you consult an attorney or a physician when executing these documents but if you have questions about them, it is a good idea.
The Division of Aging Services provides free information forms on Georgia's Living Will as well as the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
For more information, contact the Division of Aging Services at 404-657-5319 or download the Adobe Acrobat forms from the Division's website .
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