Forbes:  “If I should remain in a persistent vegetative state for more than 15 years, I would like someone to turn off the TV.”

This was the first item Paul Rudnick listed in his New Yorker parody, “Living Will.” But while his 2005 essay continues to amuse, living wills are no joke. They’re extremely difficult to think about and bring oneself to sign. For some people they also raise cultural and religious issues.

A living will, also known as a healthcare directive or advance directive, is a legal document authorizing someone to “pull the plug.” Of course it doesn’t say so that bluntly. Instead, it’s phrased in terms of withdrawing or withholding life‑sustaining procedures for a terminal condition if death is imminent. The provisions –for example, about not giving you intravenous fluids, using a machine to help you breathe or restarting your heart — are nauseating to contemplate. But unless you sign a living will, friends and family may be left to guess about your wishes or doctors may refuse to carry them out. This just adds to their stress at an already stressful time.