In April 2010, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that senior citizens who had created a living will were much more likely to receive medical treatment in line with their requests [source: Silveira, et al]. Moreover, the study found, many subjects who had living wills specified something less than full care, should they become incapacitated: They wanted not be resuscitated or to receive only such care as would make them more comfortable, in what could be their final hours. To that end, these patients succeeded in making their desires clearly and legally defined, avoiding unnecessary or unwanted procedures. Without an agreement in place such as a living will, doctors are obligated by their ethical standards to perform all possible procedures to prolong a patient's life.
It's important to also keep in mind how much medicine and end-of-life care has changed in recent decades. Rather than dying at home, most gravely ill people now spend their last days in hospitals (or in hospices and similar institutions), often after days or weeks of medical care [source: Public Agenda]. In that event, a living will ensures that a patient's wishes are respected. The document also lets family and friends spend the remaining time with their loved ones secure in the knowledge that medical decisions have been predetermined, and that they won't have to intuit what the person might have wanted.