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Living wills can limit surgeons

As we have often discussed on this blog, a living will has a number of purposes. One of those purposes is for an individual to specify how they want doctors and family members to treat them medically if they are incapacitated and can't vocalize those preferences. A will can instruct doctors not to take extraordinary measures to keep them alive, like hooking them up to a life support system or ventilator.

This document can help loved ones avoid a lot of heartache in an already tough situation, but how does a surgeon or medical professional react to such a process? One study stated surgeons feel limited by it.

In a recent study headed up by an assistant professor of surgery at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, 54 percent of surgeons said they would not even bother operating on an individual if that patient's living will specified they did not want to be put on life support when the doctor thought it was necessary.

What's equally as alarming is that only 50 percent of surgeons that regularly perform high-risk operations discuss living wills or other medical directives with their patients. More than 900 surgeons were questioned in the study.

If you look at the situation from a surgeon's point of view, their top priority is to see their patient makes it out of a procedure alive. If a living will limits the measures they can take to make that happen, they might not be as confident in the outcome.

While all the surgeons were sure to discuss the risks involved with their patients, only 52 percent of them asked what the patient's living will specified about post-operative life supporting therapy.

The woman behind the study argued that living wills are more or less moot in these surgical settings, and instead, the patient and surgeon should have a conversation before the procedure on what their expectations are for these situations.

Source: The Capital Times, "Can 'living wills' tie a surgeon's hands? UW study indicates so," Bill Novak, Jan. 26, 2012

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