How can I persuade my mother to sign a living will?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I persuade my mother to sign a living will? She says she doesn't want to, although my sister and I have explained the necessity and the implications if she does not. She insists she does not want to be "kept alive" by machines, but it feels like she thinks we will hasten her death if given the opportunity.

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Your mother's resistance is common--and often based on an interesting psychological block. Many people feel that if they sign such a document, they are giving up on life and on their own self-sufficiency.

But if there's one true thing that might help ease your mother's particular concern about living wills, or advance directives as they're generally called these days, it's this: They realistically cannot be used to hasten death. All that one can do--and it's a big thing it does--is ensure that your mother would get the types of medical treatment she would want provided or withheld if she became unable to express her specific wishes on her own.

While some people opt in their advance directives to name a person to make the care decisions for them, your mother does not seem like a good candidate for this. Encourage her instead to be as specific as she chooses about the type of medical care she wants.

From a practical standpoint, it may help to get another person in to explain the pros and cons to her. If she has a doctor she trusts, enlist him or her to do this job. Other potential objective sources would be a patient's representative at a hospital, an ombudsperson at a nursing home, or an experienced elder law attorney.