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Many Washington baby boomers without end-of-life documents

A living will expresses a person's exact wishes for medical care if he or she is unable to communicate with physicians. But since middle-aged individuals, including many Seattle residents, still feel very young and healthy, such end-of-life documents would seem to be something that people in their middle ages wouldn't be too concerned about. With that in mind, Washington residents may be interested in a recent poll that found that 64 percent of baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, said they don't have a living will.

Yet, regardless of age or health, carefully spelling out one's end-of-life wishes can be a good idea for anyone. A living will enables individuals to say just how much or how little they want in medical treatment if they are in a state in which they cannot speak for themselves. A living will can also spare families otherwise painful decisions regarding the application or withdrawal of medical treatment.

To illustrate, Washingtonians may remember the family fight over Terri Schiavo. The 26-year-old Florida woman collapsed at her St. Petersburg home in 1990; she had no written instructions for end-of-life care. Her heart stopped, and doctors said she suffered irreversible brain damage that left her in a permanent vegetative state. Schiavo's husband said his wife would not have wanted to live in such a condition, but her parents insisted on keeping her alive.

The result of this fight was a years-long legal battle. Eventually, Schiavo's feeding tube was ordered removed in 2005, and the woman died about two weeks later.

The Schiavo case precisely demonstrates the importance of having a living will. End-of-life care can include many complexities and uncertainties. Having a legal document that expresses certain health care directives to be carried out if one is incapacitated can bring a measure of surety and comfort to one's medical treatment. Deciding on end-of-life care wishes can be a long and reflective process for many people, but once those wishes are clearly known, it is a good idea to draft them in written form. In any case, those documents can be modified over time if one's end-of-life wishes change.

Source:, "End-of-life documents not a huge concern for many boomers," Nov. 16, 2011

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