We believe that everyone should seriously consider putting in place a Living Will/Advanced Medical Directive to determine what your medical treatment would be should you be unable to communicate your own decisions.
A Living Will allows you to record your wishes about future medical treatment if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.
Whilst there are many treatments which offer patients with serious or terminal illness the chance to extend their life, in some cases they may offer little or no chance of recovery. It may be that you would not wish to go through with such treatment to extend your life, however, in the future you may be unable to communicate those wishes.
It is a Doctor's duty to act in your best interests and to do all that they can to keep you alive (this can mean invasive surgery or treatments) unless a Living Will has been made and states otherwise.
It also can help family members who otherwise would be left to make a difficult decision - a Living Will can remove this pressure at an already stressful time and allows them to make a decision knowing your previously expressed wishes.
We would also encourage our clients to write a statement of values setting out what is important to you in your life on a wider basis than purely medical treatment. This can include your beliefs, values and preferences.
See our top frequently asked questions below to help you understand a bit more about Living Wills.
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will will only take effect if you become unable to tell people your wishes about your medical treatment and therefore cannot take part in the decisions to be made.
A Living Will cannot deal with funeral instructions or your possessions or property after you die. You will need an ordinary Will for these matters. You also cannot use a Living Will to refuse basic nursing care such as basic hygiene or to request that your life be ended.
Is a Living Will legally binding?
In Scotland an advanced refusal of treatment is legally binding provided:
1. Your refusal was made when you were mentally capable of making such a decision
2. You meant that the refusal should apply to the circumstances which have now occurred
3. You understood what the consequences of the refusal would be in those circumstances
4. You made the decision freely and were not influenced or coerced by someone else
The British Medical Association supports the use of Living Wills where it appears that the conditions above have been met.
Who should I tell about my Living Will?
If you have a Welfare Power of Attorney they should know about your Living Will as they will be the person or people making the decision about your medical treatment. Your doctor and any other medical practitioner your see should also be aware of your wishes, and a copy kept on your medical records.
Family and close friends who may be called upon to make hard decisions about your medical treatment should also be aware of any declaration of wishes.
Are a Living Will and a Power of Attorney not the same thing?
Although in some respects they deal with similar things they are different and deal with different aspects of your Welfare. Whereas a Power of Attorney authorises someone to act on your behalf in relation to your medical treatment, the Living Will sets out what your wishes would be.
A Welfare Attorney is the only person who can legally consent or refuse treatment on your behalf.
Can I change my mind after signing a Living Will?
The wishes contained in the Living Will are not necessarily final. They can be changed at any point while you have the mental capacity to do so. If you change your mind you should have any copies of your Living Will destroyed and make sure your family, friends and doctors know that you have changed your mind.
Is a Living Will consenting to Euthanasia?
Sometimes the idea of refusing treatment by a Living Will and Euthanasia can be confused, however, they are very different. Euthanasia involves positive steps being taken to deliberately end your life. In contrast, a Living Will states that a doctor should NOT take action to give you potentially life-extending treatments.
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