What is a Living Will?
A Living Will is a document that tells others how you would want to be treated in the event of serious illness in circumstances where you are not able to communicate your wishes.
You can use a Living Will to indicate your wish to refuse all or some forms of medical treatment if you lose mental capacity in the future.
A Living Will is not an instrument of euthanasia, but a request in advance to doctors not to give certain medical treatment.
Advantages of Living Wills
- They respect the human rights of a patient, and in particular their right to reject medical treatment.
- Having a Living Will encourages full disclosure about end of life decisions.
- Knowing what a patient wants means that doctors are more likely to give appropriate treatment.
- They help medical professionals make difficult decisions.
- Family and friends of patients do not have to make the difficult decisions themselves.
Disadvantages of Living Wills
- Writing them may be thought provoking.
- It is difficult for a healthy person to adequately to imagine what they would really want in the situation where a Living Will would take effect.
- Patients may change their mind but not change their Living Will.
- They are no use if they cannot be found quickly when needed.
Correctly drawn Living Wills should be made:
- By a person who is 18 or over and has the capacity to make one.
- Specify the treatment to be refused.
- Be made in writing.
When might the terms of a Living Will not be followed?
A doctor might not act in accordance with the terms of a Living Will if:-
- The person has done anything clearly inconsistent with the terms of the Living Will which affects its validity (for example, a change of religious faith).
- The current circumstances could not have been anticipated by the person and would have affected their decision (for example, a recent development in treatment that radically changes the outlook for their particular condition).
- It is not clear what should happen.
- The person has been treated under the Mental Health Act.
- A doctor can also treat if there is a doubt or a dispute about validity of the Living Will and the case has been referred to the court.
If you have signed a Living Will in the past it should be reviewed regularly to make sure it continues to accurately reflect your wishes.
When it is appropriate to make a Living Will
People in good health find it hard to imagine the whole range of situations that might befall them, so it is generally more effective for Living Wills to be compiled in the early stages of a disease or disability, as this will allow doctors to give realistic guidance about possible future situations.
If you would like to make a Living Will an appointment can be made for you to consult a solicitor at any of the following offices;