A living will or ‘advance decision’ allows you to set out your wishes and refuse medical treatment in future. In this article we will explain:
– What a living will is and what it involves
– Why making a living will is important
– The process involved in creating a living will
Even though it is often unpalatable to consider future care needs and death, it’s important to consider your wishes and preferences now and set out guidelines officially so that you can be sure they’ll be followed when the time comes. A living will or ‘advance decision’ allows you to set out your wishes and refuse medical treatment in future. In this article we will explain what a living will involves and how you can make one.
A living will is also known as an ‘advance decision’ or ‘advance healthcare directive’. It allows you to set out your wishes now, so that they can be followed in future if you are incapable of communicating or making a decision. An advance decision is legally binding, so those caring for you (healthcare professionals) will need to follow the instructions you set out. You can still refuse treatment, even if it may lead to your death.
An advance decision will only come into effect once you are mentally incapacitated or cannot communicate decisions regarding your treatment. Anyone aged over 18 can make a living will.
An advance decision is not to be confused with an ‘advanced statement’, which sets out your likes and dislikes and personal preferences. This is not legally binding and explains wishes such as the clothes you like to wear, what you’d like to eat, who you’d like to visit you and how you’d like to be washed.
It’s especially important to make a living will if you have specific wishes that you’d like to be carried out in the future. If you don’t arrange an advanced decision then you may not have control over the direction your care takes and how you are treated in the future.
You should consider carefully when creating an advance decision. There are lots of things to take into account – so it’s important to address each thoroughly one by one. Here we’ve collected some key aspects of the process to contemplate before you begin to set out your advance decision.
– Discussion with medical professionals: It’s important to talk about your advance directive with any healthcare professionals currently responsible for your care. This could include your general practitioner or specialist. This is especially key if you have recently received a diagnosis of progressive or terminal illness.
– Consideration of the types of situations you wish to refuse treatment in: You’ll need to consider certain outcomes and eventualities and then think about how you would like to be treated – or most importantly how you would not like to be treated. This may require you to do some research regarding the types of situations that can arise and treatment options available.
– Discussion with family and friends: It can be difficult to discuss these matters with family and friends – but it’s important that the yare aware of your wishes, especially if they may affect your length of life.
Tips to consider when you make a living will. These include:
– Be specific: As living wills are often made out independently they can be very general or incredibly specific. Living wills that are too general might not be actionable and could instead cause conflict between medical professionals and loved ones. For this reason it’s important to be specific as you set out your wishes.
– Ask someone to check through it for you: Once you’ve finished, ask someone you trust to have a look at the document in full and help you to tighten things up and check for errors.
You can make a living will at any time. Commonly people begin to think about making a living will as they approach older age. Reasons for setting out an advance decision include:
– Deteriorating or declining health
– Designating a specific person who can make healthcare decisions for you
– Surgery, long-term treatment or hospitalisation on the horizon
– A desire to clearly state your wishes so that it’s more likely they’ll be followed
– Onset or diagnosis of terminal illness
Here is a short video explaining more about Living Wills.
To create a living will you don’t need to speak with a qualified solicitor – but it may be useful if you are unsure of the processes involved. An advance decision to refuse treatment must:
– Be clear about the circumstances under which you would not like to receive a specific treatment
– Specify whether you want to receive a specific treatment – even if refusal could lead to death
It must not:
– Be used to request a certain type of treatment
– Be used to ask for your life to be ended
You don’t have to write your advance decision down, but it’s a good idea to do so. You can then provide a copy for family and friends, as well as those involved with your care such as carers, medical team and general practitioner. They will include it in your medical notes. The advance decision should be signed and dated.
If you wish to refuse potentially life-sustaining treatment then you will need to have your decision made out in writing, signed and witnessed. ‘Even if life is at risk as a result’ should be clearly stated and included in the document.
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