As unpleasant as the thought may be, we all need to plan for the future and what could happen if we become unable to make decisions for ourselves or even communicate clearly.
For many of us there is no thought worse than being in hospital, knowing that we are not going to recover but being forced to have treatment when we would prefer things to end.
WHAT IS A LIVING WILL?
A living will allows you to make your wishes clear in advance and while you are still competent and clear of mind. It lets you express your wishes to refuse medical treatment at a future date, even if that refusal leads to your death.
A living will is a legally binding document, which means that your wishes must be respected even if loved ones or those caring for you object.
However, these powers only come into force if you have completely lost the ability to make or communicate your decisions about treatment.
WHAT YOU NEED TO CONSIDER
Think very carefully about what treatments you would not wish to receive in certain situations.
The best advice is to discuss your feelings with a doctor who knows your medical history and the implications of refusing treatments. Needless to say, you should also discuss the matter with family and close friends so that they can understand your wishes.
An advance decision to refuse treatment:
- must be absolutely clear about the circumstances under which you do not wish to receive treatment;
- should specify that you understand that the refusal of treatment could lead to your death; and
- cannot be used to request certain treatments, nor can it be used to ask for your life to be ended.
HOW DO I GO ABOUT MAKING AN ADVANCE DECISION?
Although an advance decision does not need to be in writing (unless you are refusing treatment that could save your life), it is far wiser to write it down and give copies to loved ones and those involved in your health care.
You must also inform your doctor so that your decision can be included in your medical notes.
If you change your mind, you must make it clear in writing to all concerned.
If you want to refuse potentially life-saving treatment, then that decision must be put in writing, signed, witnessed and include the statement, ‘even if life is at risk as a result’.
In all cases, though, it is always best to consult a solicitor first, as some of the rules can be quite complicated.
AN ADVANCE STATEMENT
An advance statement of wishes explains your likes and dislikes and anything that is important for you to be comfortable. An advance statement should be considered by all those involved in your care. Unlike an advance decision, it's not legally binding.
You might like to include information on:
- where ideally you would like to be cared for (for example, your home, a care home or hospice);
- your dietary requirements;
- foods you do and do not like;
- whether you prefer baths or showers;
- what kind of clothes you prefer to wear;
- the type of music you like and what you like to watch on TV;
- whether you like to sleep with a light on;
- the time you like to go to bed and whether you’re an early riser or prefer a lie in;
- your religious or other beliefs and values;
- who you want to be consulted about your care; and
- who you would like to visit you.
You can record your advance statement in any way that works for you. However, it is important to give a copy of your advance statement to all those involved in your care, especially your care staff, GP and medical team so that they know and understand your wishes.