Living Wills Explained
It is never nice to consider what life will be like when we are dying, but the reality is that many people are being kept alive, perhaps against their own wishes. Numerous studies have revealed that the medical care of the dying is often found to be unnecessarily prolonged, painful, expensive and emotionally burdensome to both patients and their families.
Research in the US revealed that aggressive medical intervention leaves nearly 2 million patients confined to nursing homes, with over 1.4 million so medically frail that they only survive through the use of feeding tubes. Further research revels that as many as 30,000 are kept alive in comatose or permanently vegetative states.
A Living Will is about how you want to Live
What is a Living Will?
A Living Will is the usual name for what is now legally known as an Advance Decision. The name was changed following the introduction of the Mental Capacity Act in England and Wales in 2005, but the description remains the same.
It is essentially a record of how a patient wishes to be cared for in their final days. The written instructions detail what actions should be taken with regards to ongoing care and, particularly, life-preserving intervention once the patient is no longer able to make their own decisions due to illness or incapacity.
They may want to refuse a blood transfusion, or an amputation. More commonly, if they’ve been told they have a terminal illness or dementia, they may wish to indicate which types of treatment they wouldn’t want to receive in the future.
The costs associated with prolonged end of life care are also considerable. A study found that in 20% of cases a family member had to quit work, 31% lost all or most of their savings and 20% reported loss of their major source of income.
The introduction of the Advance Decision was an important one because for the first time. the decisions made (such as refusal of treatment) could be considered legally binding and therefore far more likely to be adhered to by medical professionals. Previously Living Wills were considered binding under common law only, which was far less enforceable.