What is a Living Will?
The Living Will only comes into effect if, at some time in the future, you are eligible for medical treatment and are unable to communicate your wishes. Therefore it is imperative that people who need to can find your Living Will.
A Living Will is not about money or property, it is about you making decisions about your medical treatment, should you be unable to make them for yourself. Everyone should have Living Will; in the same way that everyone should have insurance.
Decide now what treatments you would like and in what circumstances, to ensure that others don’t make the wrong decision on your behalf. The legal term for a Living Will is an advance decision, but you don’t need or want a lawyer to draw one up. We can help you either online or on the phone. It is simple, straightforward and inexpensive, costing £9.50 per year for the registration service and card. An advance decision is there to protect you and ensure that your wishes are carried out by doctors, if you are unable to tell them what treatment you would like. You may think that Living Wills are only required by the elderly, or those with pre-existing medical conditions, but, like it or not, accidents happen and diseases strike at the most inopportune of moments.
You can ensure that you get the kind of care you want, unburden your family and refuse treatments you don’t want, or enforce treatments you do want, if you are unable communicate your wishes. The only way to ensure that your wishes with regards to medical treatment and care are upheld is to have a properly drawn up and witnessed advance decision.
It only takes a few minutes
The UK Living Will Registry provides everything you need to create, record and enforce your choices. And we’ve taken expert advice from Michael Mylonas QC, to make sure that we’ve ticked all the right boxes. You will receive a registry card, which you can keep in your wallet, giving medical care professionals access to your Living Will online and your family peace of mind that you will be treated in accordance with your wishes.
Background to Living Wills
Medical developments, dating back to the 1960s, mean that medical professionals are now able to keep people alive for longer than ever before. This has led to the need for some form of legal document, where a patient can record how they want to be treated in their later life.
There are many cases of people being kept alive who have no quality of life and the family then agonise over decisions regarding their care. They cannot truly know what their loved one wants, because of their inability to communicate. Naturally, this often leads to a lot of pain. It is clear then that Living Wills are vitally important, to alleviate this most difficult of heartaches.
A watershed moment: As a result of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, Tony Bland was sadly diagnosed with persistent vegetative state. For people with this diagnosis, there is no hope of recovery. Tony’s family, and doctors, all agreed that he would not want to live in that state and wanted to remove his feeding tube and allow him to die gracefully. Unfortunately, the laws at the time did not allow such a thing and the case had to go to High Court, where special permission was granted.
Although Tony’s family did finally realise what they believed he wanted, his case made it abundantly clear that a process needed to be established and that laws needed to be changed.
In 1993, the law commission declared that a Living Will should be treated in the same way as an individual stating their wishes. And, in 2005, the Mental Capacity Act enshrined this in law.
A Living Will consists of five parts:
1. An advance decision.
An advance decision is a legally binding document that states which life-prolonging treatments you wish to refuse, in a variety of circumstances. You may like to discuss these options with your GP, to ensure that you understand the purpose of each treatment, as well as the implications of refusing it. The decisions you make in an advance decision are only valid if you are incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions.
2. An advance statement.
An advance statement is not an essential part of your Living Will, but it will help those involved in your care to act in accordance with your wishes. It states your wishes regarding medical treatments that are not intended to prolong life. It also allows you to say who you wish to be present during your illness, the nature of your nursing care, your dietary requirements and your faith requirements.
3. Your funeral wishes.
As part of your Living Will, you are afforded the opportunity to specify the details of your own funeral. This can contain information such as where you would like to be buried, any particular desires for the ceremony or who is allowed to attend.
4. Your organ donation wishes.
In the event of your death, your Living Will acts as a means of alerting medical professionals, your friends and family to your organ donation wishes.
5. A declaration under the Mental Capacity Act, 2005.
Every Living Will is accompanied by a declaration, which confirms the choices that you have made in your advance decision.
All decisions outlined in your Living Will, including your advance decision, may be revoked at any time, orally or in writing. It is not, however, necessary to confirm your commitment to your advance decision; it remains legally binding from the date it was signed until, and unless, it is revoked.
Renewing your declaration on a regular basis, however, may help your Health Care Providers, and all those involved in your health care and legal affairs, to be content that your wishes remain unchanged.
For this reason, all those registered at the UK Living Will Registry are regularly reminded to consider the decision they have made in their advance decision and can, of course, update the Living Will held on their behalf at any time.
History of Living Wills
In the late 1960’s, the American Attorney Louis Kutner made a proposal for a simple document that would allow a patient to refuse any life-continuing or sustaining treatment that they wouldn’t want, even if they were too incapacitated to refuse or to communicate their wishes.
This was designed as a solution to a problematic dilemma that doctors were finding themselves in quite often, as they found it difficult to accept that patients might prefer not to receive life-sustaining treatment, when they could not speak for themselves. This was always a difficult decision for doctors, as it seemed to go against the Hippocratic oath.
The earliest documents caused many problems, given the fact that the wishes in the documents were not specific enough to cover the many different types of treatments and they caused much confusion and many grey areas, that doctors found them almost unusable.
Thankfully, these documents are now greatly improved and have recognised standards for the statement of options available. They are now split into topics, and are much more straightforward and able to be understood.