What is a Living Will?

You can use a Living Will to communicate, in advance, your wishes to refuse any medical treatment you may receive in the future, in case it's not possible for you to express your preferences at the time.

It can be used in England & Wales and Scotland. But in England & Wales it's also known as an 'Advance Decision'.

A Living Will form can be used to refuse treatment you object to on religious grounds or for any other reason, and it can be used to refuse treatment that is necessary to save your life ('life-sustaining treatment').

It applies only to your health care and it cannot be used to make other decisions, such as those relating to your financial matters (including how any care should be paid for).

When a Living Will applies

To make one, you must be over 18 years of age.

It only applies when you're no longer able to make decisions regarding medical treatment for yourself.

The Living Will form applies only to the treatment specified within it and only in the circumstances specified. It's important that you're very clear as to precisely what treatment you're specifying in the form and in what circumstances you intend to refuse it.

Although you can use layperson's language, in some cases it will be worth consulting your doctor for the precise definition of the treatment you wish to refuse.

It won't apply if there are reasonable grounds for believing that there are circumstances which you didn't anticipate at the time you made the form, and which would have affected your decision had you anticipated them.

It can be used only to refuse treatment. Although it will be treated as evidence of your wishes, it cannot be used to insist on a specific form of treatment being carried out.

It cannot permit any form of euthanasia or assisted suicide. If you have made one to refuse a specific treatment and it applies to the particular circumstances, your health care givers must honour it, even if they think that it's in your best interests for you to have the treatment.

If it's decided, for whatever reason, that your form doesn't apply, it may still be treated as an expression of your wishes and desires and to assess whether the treatment is in your best interests.

Communicating your Living Will

A Living Will form can apply only where the person providing your health care is aware of it. You should think carefully about where you keep it and how it will be communicated to the relevant professional.

It may be necessary to have the form's existence recorded on your health care notes and a copy kept with those notes. If it's relevant, you may wish to carry a bracelet or card that draws attention to the existence of it. You should also consider making your family or friends aware of the existence of the form.

Updating your Living Will

It's recommended that you regularly review any form you have made and update it as appropriate. If you update your form regularly, it's more likely to be viewed as being applicable, if and when it's needed. If you wish to revoke or withdraw it, it's best that you do so in writing.

Stop worrying and make a Living Will today. 


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Published on: October 25, 2010

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