The History Behind Living Wills

We’ve talked about what makes your Keystone Digital Living Will a legal document that can be used to protect your end-of-life medical choices.

But when it comes to the history of living will legality, it wasn’t always so easy to protect you and your loved ones.

Luis Kutner is credited with creating the original living will in 1967. Kutner, a human rights attorney from Chicago, experienced a long, traumatic illness and death of a close friend. This led him to produce a document expressing people’s end-of-life wishes about life support treatment.

Following this, Dr. Walter F. Sackett introduced a bill in Florida aiming to permit the right to choose whether life-sustaining treatment could be used. This bill was not passed in 1968 and was again unsuccessful in 1973.

In California, legislator Barry Keene introduced a similar bill in 1974 after he was unable to limit his mother’s life-sustaining medical treatment, even with a signed power of attorney. After this bill passed, California officially became the first state to legally endorse living wills.

By the end of 1975, seven states had passed and 43 others were considering similar bills. By 1992, all 50 states had successfully passed living will legislation, and the Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) had gone into effect. The PSDA requires all healthcare facilities to provide patients with information about their right to create a living will.

A number of cases led to the development of complimentary rights. When 21-year-old Karen Ann Quinlan’s father made a medical decision on her behalf following an alcohol and valium induced coma, this led to the right to appoint a healthcare proxy or spokesperson. After 25-year-old Nancy Cruzan lost control at the wheel and suffered severe brain damage to the point of being sustained on a feeding tube, sufficient evidence was found to order her feeding tube to be withdrawn—which led to the right to execute a binding living will.

Social awareness and legislation governing living wills has grown from personal experience. Living wills have evolved based on public debate about matters like the right to die, which was a focus in the 2005 Terri Shiavo case—and continues to evolve in terms of becoming easier and clearer to implement.

Keystone Digital Living Will represents the latest advances in living wills as well as a comprehensive understanding of end-of-life healthcare. We understand the value of protecting your end-of-life medical treatment preferences and have created a fully digital system of electronic access, editing, and sharing that makes sure your choices are implemented.

It’s never too early or too late to create your Keystone Digital Living Will and take control of your healthcare. Get started here.

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