A Living Will

What is a living will and how is it useful?

A living will is not a will which we understand in the normal sense, but an ‘advance statement’ or ‘directive’ – instructions about stopping life-prolonging treatment in the future if a person loses the ability to express her or his wishes. No law has been passed to make an advance statement legally valid, but the British Medical Association (BMA) says that that where ‘incompetent or unconscious patients have made a formal and specific statement applicable to the circumstances, doctors should regard it as potentially legally binding’.  

The legal view is that an advance statement is a refusal to have treatment, made in advance, and that in common law your wishes should be taken into account provided certain conditions are met. They are:

  1. you must be eighteen or over when you decide and must not have been influenced by anyone else and,

  2. you should be ‘of sound mind’ and understand the consequences of refusing treatment.

Your living will statement could include medication you would be happy to have, and in what conditions, medication you would want, no matter how unwell you are, medication you would prefer not to have, and in what situations and, someone you would like to be check with about your medication at the time a decision needs to be made.

Making a Living Will

If you wish to make a living will, the first step is to discuss your wishes with your GP who should help you to draft your statement. The BMA recommends the ‘model’ statements developed by the HIV/AIDS charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust – even for people who do not suffer form HIV/AIDS.

The second step is to sign the statement and get it witnessed by two people who will not be involved in caring for you and will not benefit from your death. The last step is to give copies of the signed and witnessed living will to you next of kin that is, to a person who can take decisions about medical care for you, and to your doctor, to keep with your medical records. Keep the original with your will, or where it is likely to be found if you are ill.

Further, consider reviewing your living will regularly to make sure you are content with it. You can call off or modify the living will if you are able to think judiciously. Clearly explicate what you want to happen. Keep things in writing and tear down old versions. You can get help from solicitors that specialise in mental health.  

Examples

  • Denied Chance of Resuscitation

You are eighty-five and due to have a minor operation. You have chronic health problems and you worry that if something goes wrong surgeons may not resuscitate you. Please rest assured because a patient who wants to be resuscitated should never be denied it. But it can be difficult for doctors to decide, especially without long-term knowledge of the person’s beliefs, whether a patent would wish to be resuscitated.

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For more information on:

  • Turning off a life-support System
  • Organ Donor