A living will, advanced health care directive, and health care power of attorney (often used interchangeably) express your wishes regarding medical treatment when you’re unable to tell your doctors what you want due to unconsciousness or competency issues and who you want to make those decisions for you. Alabama has laws to regulate how these can be created, revoked, and what doctors can refuse in performing the requested treatment options.
Alabama living wills are regulated by the Alabama Natural Death Act. A living will informs your doctors of the type of treatment you do or don’t want, such as artificial life support. The idea is to avoid a Terri Schiavo-type fight between family members. In addition, there are separate laws on creating and revoking durable power of attorney for health care, which is the legal way to designate an agent to speak for you in health care matters when you’re unable to do so.
The table below describes the main parts of the Alabama living will laws.
||Alabama Code Title 22: Health, Mental Health, and Environmental Control, 8A: Termination of Life Support Procedures or the Alabama Natural Death Act
|Life Sustaining Treatment
||Life-sustaining treatment that can be requested in a living will and by an agent (if not contradicting the patient’s desires) includes any medical procedure or intervention serving only to prolong the dying process or only maintaining the patient in a state of permanent unconsciousness. This doesn’t include medication or procedure deemed necessary to provide comfort care or pain alleviation.
|Legal Requirements for Valid Living Will
||To create a valid living will, a person must be a competent adult (19 years old or older, alert and capable of understanding medical procedures as a layperson, who appreciates the consequences of withholding treatment). The document must be:
- In writing
- Signed by the creator of the living will
- In the presence of two or more witnesses
- Dated, and
- The declaration should be substantially in the same format as the statutory form
|Revocation of Living Will
||A living will can be revoked at any time by any of the following methods:
- Destruction of document in manner intending to cancel (burning, tearing, defacing, etc.)
- Execution of a written revocation by the creator of the living will
- Oral revocation in the presence of an adult witness (over 19 years old) who signs a written confirmation that the intent to revoke it was made
|Validity from State-to-State
||A health care directive or living will executed in another state is valid if it’s valid under the laws of the state where it was created.
|If Physician Unwilling to Follow Living Will
||If a physician, nurse, or other health care provider is unwilling to comply with the directions of a living will (often for religious or moral reasons), then they won’t be liable for that refusal nor can they be discriminated against in employment for refusing to remove artificially hydration or other life-sustaining treatments.
However, the doctor must permit the patient to be timely transferred to another provider or health care facility who will follow out the patient’s wishes.
If the doctor, or any other person, such as a family member, hides or destroys an Advanced Health Care Directive of another person without his or her consent or forges a revocation of one is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors can be punished by not more than a year in jail and a $6,000 fine.
This crime is increased to a Class C felony if the intent was to cause life-sustaining treatment or artificial nutrition or hydration to be removed against the wishes of the patient and to hasten death. Class C felonies are subject to 1 to 10 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
|Immunity for Attending Physician
||A doctor acting in good faith pursuant to reasonable medical standards and following an apparently valid health care directive or designated agent or proxy is not subject to criminal, civil, or professional liability.
If you’re interested in creating a living will or other end-of-life planning documents, you should speak with an experienced Alabama estate planning lawyer.
Note: As state laws change frequently, it’s important to conduct your own legal research to verify the state laws you’re researching.
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