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1(b). Living Wills

The early documents used to choose a natural death were called “living wills”. The first Living Will was adopted in California in 1976. By the early 1990s every state had adopted some form with which a person could state, in advance, that (s)he did not want to receive life-sustaining medical treatments that would only prolong the dying process. The Alabama Natural Death Act was similar to other states’, as was the simple, one-page form.

These early laws and documents failed to provide expressly for artificial nutrition and hydration or for states of permanent unconsciousness, yet these are two of the most critical issues for many people. In the late 90s states began amending their laws and forms. Alabama was one of the first states to adopt a more extensive Advance Health Care Directive and to substantially amend its Natural Death Act. The form passed by the Alabama Legislature in 1997 proved too long and complicated and lawmakers passed a shorter, simpler version in the spring of 2001, effective as of August 1, 2001.

It cannot be overemphasized that while executing an advance directive is important, it is only part of a process: talking with loved ones about one's values in the context of life and death, making decisions, executing documents stating your choices, and then being sure that medical providers are informed and given copies of any executed documents. Communication is vital.

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