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 A living will declaration is a written statement of a person's wishes concerning life-sustaining procedures to prolong his or her life when that person is in a terminal condition. This is a condition that is incurable or irreversible and, without life-sustaining procedures, will result in death in a relatively short time. The existence of a terminal condition must be confirmed by a physician other than the attending physician.

In the living will, a person states a desire that life-sustaining procedures not be administered to prolong life if he or she is in a terminal condition. The living will directs the attending physician to withhold or withdraw procedures that merely prolong the dying process and are not necessary to the person's comfort and freedom from pain.

Living will declarations specifically are authorized by Chapter 144A of the Code of Iowa.

The law releases physicians from civil and criminal liability for complying with a living will declaration. If a physician is not willing to comply, the law requires the physician to take all reasonable steps to transfer the patient to another physician.

A living will declaration can relieve family stress. By expressing your wishes in advance that you do not want life-sustaining procedures used if you are in a terminal condition, you help family or friends who might otherwise struggle to decide on their own what you would want done.

The living will obviously is a personal decision. Some people decide not to sign one, for a variety of reasons. However, it is prudent for everyone to consider it when reviewing and updating their wills and other estate planning documents.

-- January 2, 2002.

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