Utahns who want to make sure their medical wishes are known and respected don't need to spend lots of money for documents to protect them.
Living will kits, which also contain a medical power of attorney (proxy) and a treatment plan, are available for as little as the $1 it costs to print them from local hospitals, senior citizen centers, the Utah Medical Association, Utah Legal Services and others.Companies sometimes advertise the kits for as much as $30.
The documents allow a person to make decisions about what type of treatment he wants - or refuses - should he have an unnaturally prolonged terminal illness. Without the documents, doctors may be forced to perform heroic and sometimes painful measures to prolong a life that is terminal.
Experts debate whether a living will is enough. Utah state law defines terminal as "a condition which will lead to death, despite life-sustaining techniques." A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Cruzan, says the wills are legally valid, but must be in writing.
Medical technology makes the definition of terminal blurry. A patient may not recover, but with respirators, bypass machines and a host of other technological advances, a human body can be kept alive, sometimes indefinitely.
A medical proxy designates a trusted relative or friend to make decisions about medical care if the patient is unable to do so. This targeted power-of-attorney overrides the provisions of a living will.
The time to decide things, according to experts, is before a person is in that situation. Someone in a coma has no way of communicating wishes or filling out forms.
The kit concerns itself with quality of life. "You have a right to choose what measures you're willing to accept," said Steve Jennings, Utah Legal Services. "And you don't have to pay a bundle for the documents. They're readily available and cheap."