The Surprising Reason Expectant Parents are Posting 'Living Wills' on TikTok

Pregnant people are posting TikTok videos telling doctors whether to save them or their baby out of fear of complications during delivery.

Man and woman look at paperwork together

David Prado / Stocksy

In a short viral clip, 2.7 million users on TikTok watched as Mackenzie Lopez, a mother of three from San Diego, California, lip-synced to the lyrics, "when I die, bury me with all my ice on." In bubble letters overlaid on the video, her message to followers reads, "if there's complications during birth, save me first!!" This is her TikTok version of a living will, which has become a viral trend that's exploding on TikTok.

The "living will" trend on TikTok features pregnant people posting what they believe to be legal instructions to their family and medical providers in case something goes horribly wrong during delivery. Under the hashtag #savemefirst is an endless scroll of videos showing pregnant people—sometimes crying or visibly upset—insisting that doctors should "save me first."

But not everyone thinks doctors should save the birthing parent first. On the other side, there are plenty of TikTok videos under the hashtag #savethebabyfirst, with equally emotional TikTok creators insisting it is selfish and cruel to save the parent first.

The videos have caused intense emotional mixed reactions from users, with many expressing a sense of urgency and confusion about the need to have a living will and which side of the debate (save me or save the baby) they fall on.

"My mother passed away due to breast cancer two days before my sixteenth birthday. Although that is completely different from childbirth complications, it still resonated so deeply with me," says Lopez. "I do already have 3 children at home, and I couldn't imagine having to leave them for the rest of their lives for any reason because losing my mother was and still is one of the hardest things I've gone through."

Why TikTok Thinks Pregnant People Need Living Wills

In 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, a landmark decision that granted people the right to access abortion. In the aftermath, states across the country have quickly moved to either enshrine abortion access into their state constitutions or have created restrictive laws, including bans on abortion. But as quickly as states have acted, the process has been anything but smooth, creating space for fear, misinformation, and confusion for pregnant people.

Outside of the political fighting over reproductive health care, many pregnant people are left wondering what rights they have if an emergency happens during childbirth. With a near-constant stream of frightening stories online about people being forced to carry dead fetuses to term or nearly bleeding to death before doctors can help out of fear of criminal charges, plenty of worries exist.

What an OB-GYN Says About Choosing Between a Parent and a Baby

How accurate is the assertion that pregnant people could face an emergency where a doctor must choose between the parent and the baby?

"The short answer is that this is a myth," says Greg Marchand, a board-certified OB-GYN and the program director fellowship in Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery at Steward Health. "These situations do exist, but not on an emergency basis. There is no situation where the immediate decision to save the mother or baby must be made."

Dr. Marchand explains there are difficult situations where termination of pregnancy is necessary for the parent's survival. Some parents may know their pregnancy is highly risky and could endanger their lives due to conditions such as cancer, heart or lung disease, or some blood disorders. In some of those cases, medical interventions like chemotherapy, for example, would need to be delayed because of the pregnancy.

"Plainly put, there are no situations where a doctor must make a 'save one or the other decision' urgently," says Dr.Marchand. "If something has gotten to the point where an emergency surgery must be performed, there is no longer a choice at that moment."

Dr. Marchand also explains while difficult choices do need to be made sometimes, there is rarely a situation in the United States where a physician must choose between the parent's or the baby's life. If that situation does arise, the parent's life would essentially come first.

"All board-certified OB-GYNs in the United States understand when a [birthing parent's] life is in danger, none of us are afraid to act," he says. "I would never hesitate to terminate a pregnancy when a [parent's] life is in danger, and I am certain I speak for every board-certified OB-GYN in the country when I say that. None of us are scared; none of us want to 'check with our lawyers' or need a refresher on the law."

Can A TikTok Video Count as a Living Will?

Despite the risk levels of carrying a pregnancy, some parents may still opt for a living will. But would a TikTok video stand up in a court? According to Allison Harrison, who practices business litigation and estate planning law with ALH Law Group, probably not.

"Without a living will, doctors are obligated to do everything to care for their patients—the Hippocratic oath," Harrison says. "And without the living will, the doctors should be consulting with your health care power of attorney on what the course of action is. The TikTok, while not legally enforceable, helps the person making decisions for you (assuming you cannot)."

Harrison explains the biggest issue with TikTok is that the videos are not witnessed when they are made. "To have a valid living will, you have to show you have the capacity and are not under any undue pressure (typically shown by witnesses signing or a notary)," she says.

What Is A Living Will and Should Pregnant People Have One?

A living will is a legal document that instructs your medical provider on what to do in the event that you become unconscious with no reasonable ability to regain capacity.

"While a regular will distributes your property to your heirs, a living will deals with your health decisions should you be in a terminal state," says Harrison. "It takes the decision away from your power of attorney to make the decision because you have pre-planned for this. Without a living will, it will be up to your healthcare power of attorney to make the decision whether to attempt life-saving treatment or not."

In the face of a changing legal landscape when it comes to abortions, many pregnant people worry they lack rights when it comes to choosing what happens in a hypothetical emergency situation. Harrison notes even though the laws are changing and are tricky, there are still some things pregnant people can do to protect themselves.

  • Create a living will and make sure it is done legally so it will be enforceable.
  • Make your wishes known to your medical provider and your power of attorney.
  • Make a clear plan for yourself and your baby regarding health and safety.

Harrison says living wills are relatively simple to create. "Most states have model forms that are utilized by their medical boards or bar associations. Some hospitals will also have their own form that they prefer. If anyone needs a living will, they can either reach out to their health care provider or local bar association."

The Bottom Line

There is a lot of misinformation swirling around the topic of pregnancy in the face of changing abortion laws. TikTok creators may have the right intentions by expressing heartfelt beliefs, but the bottom line is that if a parent wants a living will, they should get one through proper legal channels.

"I think the video went viral because it is such a heavily emotional topic," Lopez says. "While I have never had any complications during childbirth, my heart goes out to those mothers and fathers who did have to make those hard life-altering decisions upon delivery."

To learn more about creating a living will in your state, check out your state's website for resources.

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