Why draw up a living will?

There are a number of reasons to draw up a living will, which has been reclassified as an Advance Decision in England and Wales.

It enables you to communicate your medical wishes should you become too ill to voice them yourself.

An Advance Decision also entitles you to refuse organ donations - a choice that might be based on your own personal or religious beliefs.

Perhaps the best illustration of why a living will is important was in the recent case of a motor neurone disease sufferer simply called XB.

The 67-year-old had become so incapacitated by the illness that he was unable to tell doctors he wanted to refuse treatment.

Controversy arose when the man drew up an Advance Decision in the presence of witnesses, only to have it later challenged by an NHS trust, which expressed concern over its clarity.

XB said in the living will that he did not want to be treated anymore for his condition and made this declaration literally in the blink of an eye.

The Court of Protection ruled the man’s wishes as valid but after hearing the evidence, Mrs Justice Theis emphasised the importance of clarity in drawing up an Advance Decision.

The judge also drew attention to the fact that health organisations should investigate potential issues surrounding the conditions of an Advance Decision as a “matter of urgency”.

XB received the right to have his life support system switched off, yet this might not have been the case if his wife had not found an Advance Decision template on the internet.

In 2010, she discussed with XB “what life-sustaining treatment he would receive” and by the following year, he had decided to withdraw such treatment.

Partner at Irwin Mitchell, Yogi Amin, who represented the family, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: “The law allows a person to prepare an advance healthcare decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment at a future date.

“This case illustrates the importance of preparing the advance decision document properly and carefully.”

Those wishing to download an Advance Decision template might consider Lawpack’s living will form. The form has been solicitor-approved, so you can rest assured that it is up to date and within the parameters of the law. 

It is worth noting that an Advance Decision is not always legally binding and that only refusals of medical treatments or procedures will be binding on medical staff.

A living will template cannot be used to specify the kinds of treatment you would like to undertake, but the Advance Decision enables you to make requests regarding your treatment.

A living will also allows you to appoint someone to discuss your care with the doctors involved in your treatment, ensuring your requirements meet your expectations as far as the law allows.

The benefits of drawing up an Advance Decision should not be undermined as they enable people in vegetative states to terminate their life-support machine if they have previously expressed this condition in the living will.

Ideally, the form will be drawn up when you are in good health and acts as protection in the event that your health deteriorates through a serious condition.

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Published on: May 11, 2012

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