Making health care decisions for patients who cannot is emotionally wrenching for families and poses an ethical dilemma for physicians. In a medical system that puts a premium on individual autonomy, what is to be done when patients lose the capacity to decide on care?
For more than two decades, the answer has been to avoid ever getting to that point. Patients are encouraged to spell out in writing what kinds of life-sustaining care they would find acceptable. Living wills, also known as substantive or instructional advance directives, are intended to give patients prospective autonomy over decisions such as whether to be resuscitated, intubated or artificially hydrated.
But according to a growing body of research, there are serious shortcomings with this type of directive.
The whole shebang.