The story of 33 year old Marlise Muñoz is a tragic one. When she was found by her husband lying unconscious on their kitchen floor in November 2013, she was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead.

While her family insisted that she had clear wishes not to be kept on life support, Texas law required that she be kept on life support because she was “a pregnant patient.”

While a Living Will/Advance Health Care Directive would not have helped Marlise Muñoz in Texas because of this law, New Jersey law allows a woman to include instructions as to what effect the advance directive shall have if she is pregnant. In other words, a woman in New Jersey could articulate in a Living Will/Advance Health Care Directive if she wanted to be removed from or kept on life support if she was pregnant.

In New Jersey, a Living Will/Advance Health Care Directive is a document that allows you to articulate your health care wishes for use by your medical providers in the event you lack capacity to make your own health care decisions. In the most basic sense, Living Wills/Advance Health Care Directives are used to indicate whether you do or do not wish to be given life sustaining treatment if your doctors determine that medical recovery is not a reality for you.

Marlise Muñoz’s story should serve as a reminder to all of us that, no matter your age, indicating your preferences for medical treatment in a Living Will/Advance Health Care Directive is incredibly important. We never know when tragedy will strike.

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