Massachusetts Advance Directives and Living Wills

Advance or medical directives (also referred to as “living wills”) provide instruction to families and medical personnel about a person’s desired wishes for care if the person is facing an end-of-life event and cannot communicate their wishes. In Massachusetts, while they are instructive, they do not create a legal obligation that their instructions be followed.

Typically, the advance directive will address whether a person desires to receive ongoing medical treatment (“heroic measures”) for the disease or condition they may be facing in order to extend their life, or whether they wish to only receive treatment to ease suffering and symptoms, but not treatment that is designed to prolong life.

Why Advance Directives are Important

Without an advance directive, family members may be required to make important decisions about the care of a loved one’s medical condition.  In some instances, it may be possible to prolong death for months or even years for a person who is comatose – is that what the person would have wanted?  Which family members should prevail if there is a difference of opinion concerning treatment?  Is it fair for a person to have to make such a difficult decision – such as removing a parent from life support without knowing what that person might have preferred?

These very difficult decisions and situations can all be addressed through an advance directive.  The person suffering will have made their care instructions explicit.