What is a Living Will or Advance Decision?

You may have heard the words 'Living Will' used in respect to friends or relatives having decided to make decisions about medical treatment for themselves in the future. In fact the term 'Living Will' really means an 'Advance Decision' having been made by you about medical treatment and is also sometimes known as an advance decision to refuse treatment, an ADRT. While such a decision deals with life sustaining treatment it is not a means by which you can request that someone else assist you in ending your life early - this is illegal. 

What does it actually mean for you? If at some point in the future you were to become unable to make decisions for yourself, or to communicate any decisions you wish to make for yourself to others, then an Advance Decision would be relevant. In effect and, while you have the mental capacity to do so, you could make a decision that you wished to refuse medical treatment and this would be legally binding whether or not you had capacity when the time came for the decision to be put into practice. This would be the case even if it might end up with you dying as a result. It could only be relied upon in the event that you no longer had mental capacity and were no longer able to discuss decisions about your treatment. Examples of the kinds of treatment that an Advance Decision would deal with would include ventilation when you can no longer breathe for yourself, CPR and antibiotics. For any Advance Decision to be valid it needs to be made in writing, to be clear in terms of what you are asking and to be signed by you and a witness. It will also need to comply with the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the wishes expressed need to be relevant to the treatment being considered.   You would need to make it clear in your decision document that you understand that the refusal of such treatment might lead to your death. You will need to have full mental capacity at the time you entered into the decision, be over 18 years of age and not to have been acting under any form of duress. 

If your Advance Decision is deemed to be valid then it will take precedence over any decisions made by others notwithstanding that they may feel that they are acting in your best interests. 

It is usually a good idea to discuss any feelings that you may have about an Advance Decision with a medical professional so that you make the decision in a fully informed way. Please be aware that if you have life insurance policies in place you will need to check that an Advance Decision does not invalidate those policies. 

Advance Decisions need to be given careful thought and it may be that you would prefer to enter into a Lasting Power of Attorney where you can give your attorneys the right to make such decisions on your behalf as and when the time comes, rather than having to commit to a "yes" or "no" approach. We would of course be happy to discuss both options with you so that you can weigh up what you think would suit your individual circumstances best. 

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