Alternatives to the "Living Will"

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said that euthanasia will eventually dwarf the abortion problem. Euthanasia is rushing towards us. Yet society, including the Christian community, hardly even understands it, let alone is prepared to deal with it and its implications.

One very practical aspect of the euthanasia and assisted suicide issue is the "advance directives" document for care at life's end. There are two forms of advance directives in use. One is called a "Living Will." A Living Will is generally described as a signed, witnessed declaration instructing a physician to withhold or withdraw medical treatment from its signer if he or she is in a terminal condition and is unable to make decisions about medical treatment. A Living Will takes rights and control from its signer and gives decision-making authority to a physician. It also gives a physician complete immunity from civil or criminal liability for his or her action or inactions.

A second directive is the "Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care." This is a document in which you can delegate to a trusted friend or family member the power to become your agent for any health care decisions you are unable to make. Christian legal groups have helped develop this alternative to the Living Will and have sometimes named this document a "Will To Live" or "Protective Medical Decisions Document."

Our research suggests that the Christian should beware of the Living Will. This document is often supported by the pro-euthanasia community. Pro-life groups point out that the Living Will may have a tilt toward euthanasia. The Living Will language is deceptive. Simple wordings appear harmless until the meanings of the words are analyzed. Words such as "artificial means," "reasonable expectation of recovery," "relatively short time," "heroic measures," and "terminal" are open to a variety of interpretations. Many of the meanings that could be construed from these words may be contrary to the intent of the Living Will signer.

Also, there may be more provisions of a Living Will law than the simple declaration which is signed by the individual. For example, persons seeking to prevent "extraordinary" and "heroic" measures at the end of their lives may unintentionally authorize their own starvation and dehydration. The terms used in a Living Will can be widely interpreted. In fact, a physician whom the signer may not know, and who may hold very different values than the signer, may be the authorized decision maker.

Pro-life Christian groups are now strongly recommending the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) over the Living Will. In the DPAHC one can specify more clearly his or her wishes toward a pro-life position. Your trusted friend or family member who is familiar with your values and wishes would have authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.

The DPAHC takes the decisions away from the "establishment" and moves it towards "home." To the medical caregivers, the DPAHC essentially says: "Here is a person upon whom I have often been dependent for love and care in the past. Now, when I can no longer participate in decisions about my medical care, I am content to continue to be dependent upon his (her) love and care. Talk with him about what is best for me."

For more information, contact the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force ( or your local right-to-life organization. The IAETF has available a multi-state version of the DPAHC, Protective Medical Decisions Document which is excellent. Also, see the abortion and euthanasia links we have provided on this web site.

For more information on euthanasia, be sure to read the article, Euthanasia—How do Christians Respond?

Note on Stem Cell Research: Scientists (2007) shocked the world when they announced they had discovered how to manipulate the genes of adult stem cells to turn them back into the equivalent of embryonic cell-dubbed "induced pluripotent stem" or "iPC" cells, which could then be coaxed into any type of cell in the body. Christians endorse adult stem cell research while vehemently opposing the destruction of life in embryonic stem cell research.