Cancer Treatment and a Living Will

Last Modified: May 7, 2012


I am getting ready to start cancer treatment; do I need a Living Will? If so, how do I go about getting one?


Christina Bach, Oncology Social Worker at Penn Medicine:

Indicating your wishes for medical care is important information for both your family and your healthcare team to have.

It is not REQUIRED for you to have a living will, but honestly, we all SHOULD have one.

A living will is part of the ADVANCED DIRECTIVE. The other part of the advanced directive is the health care proxy. There are VERY specific times that the directions given in these documents are applicable.

A living will is a legal document that a person uses to make known his or her wishes regarding life prolonging medical treatments. It is important to have a living will as it informs your health care providers and your family about your desires for medical treatment in the event you are not able to speak for yourself. The health care proxy gives you the ability to appoint a spokesperson to make medical decisions on your behalf should you not be able to participate in your care.

The documents vary from state to state, but do not require an attorney to be executed and are available free of charge at

Be sure to use the advanced directive in the state where you live; not where you get treatment.

Be sure to talk with your care team about your advanced directives as well as to have a copy of your document placed in your chart. Should you be admitted to the hospital, you should take a copy of your document with you. Also be sure to talk about your decisions with your family and the person(s) you appoint as health care proxy.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire transcript from the Focus on GI Cancers webchat.