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Can a doctor refuse to abide by a living will in Florida?

Having a medically incapacitated loved one is often a heart-breaking situation. Along with the grief that goes with the loss, there can be the additional stress of when to decide that life-prolonging procedures have become too invasive, especially if someone has been designated as the person's healthcare surrogate. Of course, if the incapacitated person has properly executed an advance medical directive, sometimes called a "living will," as part of a comprehensive estate plan, the decision can be a bit easier, as the person, hopefully, has made their wishes known in that document.

But, what happens if the doctor or hospital refuses to follow the instructions of the advance directive or the decision of a healthcare proxy? After all, there are many people who have moral or ethical objections to allowing people to die without trying everything possible to save them. Further, some healthcare facilities are affiliated with organized religions that have specific beliefs about matters of life and death. Do doctors and hospitals have to go against their religious or ethical beliefs in order to comply with the law?

In Florida, the answer is, generally, no. Florida Statute 765.1105 covers this situation. It states that healthcare providers do not have to do any act that would violate moral or ethical beliefs as long as certain conditions are met. First, the patient's condition is not an emergency and, second, that the patient received some written information regarding the healthcare provider's policies having to do with such moral or ethical situations. If there is a living will, and the healthcare provider decides it cannot comply on moral or ethical grounds, it must either arrange to transport the patient to another provider at its own expense, or follow the wishes of the patient or healthcare surrogate, unless some judicial intervention has occurred, such as an injunction being issued.

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