These are documents that allow a patient to give explicit instructions about medical treatment administered to said patient whenever they are permanently incapacitated or terminally ill. This is known as an advanced directive. Living wills thus allow for a person to prolong their life, outline a full range of treatment preferences or reject treatment if they are permanently incapacitated or terminally ill.
These documents extend the principle of consent, as patients must agree to any medical action before doctors can proceed. This allows the patient to guide future instances of health care should they be too ill to make decisions. The patient can revoke these documents at any time they see fit.
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia maintain living will statutes that make a properly drawn-out living will binding. In states without living will statutes, these documents only stand as clear expression of the patient’s wishes.
In order for a person to execute a living will, they must be legally competent, and the affair must be witnessed by a separate party of disinterest.