More and more people are wanting to make their wishes clear in respect of medical treatment – in the event that they are unexpectedly taken into hospital in an unconscious state and cannot communicate their wishes. In order to make their preferences explicit, some people have resorted to drastic measures, such as the Grandma who had a ‘Do not resuscitate’ tattoo on her chest.
Thankfully, an ’advance decision’ (also commonly known as a ‘living will’ or an ’advance directive’) exist so most of us don’t need to resort to such extreme measures – the tattoo was something extra that the pensioner wanted to do in combination with her advance decision, as the tattoo alone would not be legally binding for Doctors to take into account a patient’s wishes. So what is an advance decision and why are they so important?
Advanced decisions allow a person to state in advance of becoming incompetent what treatments they want to refuse. An advance decision is legally and medically recognised, provided the relevant requirements have been met.
In order for the advance decision to be valid, it has to specifically state what treatment is being refused and in what circumstances. It cannot be used to demand a particular treatment. If the advance decision concerns life sustaining treatment, it must be in writing, signed and witnessed.
There is also however another option if you have strong beliefs or preferences, for example if you are a Jehovas Witness and you elect to not receive donated blood products. An alternative to an advance decision is a health and welfare lasting power of attorney. This document allows you to appoint a person (an attorney) to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are mentally incapable of making the decision yourself. The attorney can either consent or refuse treatment on your behalf and this can also extend to life sustaining treatment provided the decision is made in your best interests – which may be a more flexible option than an advance decision in some cases.
If you decide that one of these documents would be helpful to you, you should make an appointment to discuss your wishes in more detail with one of our solicitors. We will draft the documents for you to ensure that they satisfy all the necessary legal requirements. The process is a lot less painful than a tattoo!
Once you have an official and valid advance decision or a lasting power of attorney, you should lodge a copy with your General Practitioner, keep a copy with your personal papers and even carry one with you like an organ donation card. Don’t just put it in a drawer where nobody can see it – that way you can be sure to have your say!
If you require further information please contact our Private Client team on 01625 442148.