What is a living will?

Do you know what a living will is? Are you wondering if you need one, and how you might handle it?

Let’s explore that in more detail…

A living will is also known as an advance decision. It states your wishes around medical treatment, either now or at some point in the future. It particularly focuses on the refusal to receive certain medical intervention/treatment such as being put on life support, given oxygen to assist breathing or receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should your heart stop.

But you cannot use it to request an end to your life, or to request specific treatment. It is solely focused on specific treatments you do not wish to receive under specified circumstances.

You must prove that you are of sound mind, and mentally fit to make that kind of decision. Often the decision is taken with the support of a clinician, such as a consultant or doctor, who is already aware of your medical history, and the longer-term prognosis.

Typically, a living will is determining your wish not to receive lifesaving treatment, because your quality of life will be impaired, and you do not wish to live in that condition.

If you wish to refuse lifesaving treatment that needs to be documented in writing, signed by you, and witnessed by an independent person, who is not a relative. But we believe it is always a good idea to record any living will wishes in writing. That way, you can share it with your medical team and be confident your wishes are known.

It is a legally binding document provided the person making it is 18 years or more, of sound mind, and the decision is made freely – in other words you have not been coerced into it. It should clearly state the treatments you do not wish to receive, and in what circumstances that would apply.

However, just because you may have chosen to make a living will does not mean you cannot change your mind at a later date. Your circumstances may change, treatments and prognosis may change, so you are always at liberty to say you want to receive treatment, should you decide that.

It is very important that you share these wishes with your loved ones. At a time when people around you may be very stressed and upset, finding out that you have refused lifesaving treatment can come as a huge shock, and cause further distress.

Talking about your decision calmly and rationally, when they are not faced with that stress, is much kinder to them. It is also an opportunity for you to reassure them that they will not be burdened by making potentially difficult decisions on your behalf, should you not be able to speak up for yourself.

A living will only comes into force if you lose capacity or are unable to articulate the decisions you wish to make about treatment.

It is a rather uncomfortable subject, and one that often forces us to face a situation we would rather not think about; but doing this while you are able to do so, could give you huge peace of mind.

If you would like to discuss living wills in more detail, please contact us on 01344 875 310.

what is a living will?