Living wills, advance decisions and statements
What is a ‘living will’?
Some health conditions may eventually leave you unable to tell those around you about the way you wish to be medically treated. If you think you may be affected in this way you can make a living will, or ‘advance decision’ (‘advance directive’ in Scotland), which is a statement explaining treatment(s) you would not wish to receive. This ‘advance decision to refuse treatment’ may include refusing life-saving treatment.
You can’t use an advance decision to:
- Ask for specific treatment
- Ask for anything illegal (e.g. request help in committing suicide)
- Get someone else to make decisions on your behalf (for that you need a Lasting Power of Attorney
Who can make an advance decision?
You can make an advance decision if:
- You are 18 years old or over and have ‘capacity’ (that is, you are mentally capable of making such a decision)
- You ave specified precisely what treatments you don’t want and the circumstances in which you would refuse them
- Your decision to refuse life-saving treatment (if you have made one) is signed and witnessed
- The decision is your own (that is, no-one has persuaded, harassed or influenced you to make it)
For your living will to be valid you must not have done, said or written anything since making the living will to contradict what you say in your advance decision
How do I make a living will?
There’s no set form for your advance decision but, for the refusal of treatment (excluding life-saving treatment), you should write a statement including the following:
- Your personal details
- Details of the specific treatments you do not wish to receive and the circumstances in which you would not wish to receive them
- The date of your statement
To refuse life-saving treatment your statement should expressly say so and be signed, dated and witnessed.
A living will is not something to be entered into lightly. You should be aware of all the facts surrounding your decisions and the impact of them before you act and for this reason it is important that you talk to your GP or hospital doctor.
If you do make a living will make sure your family is aware of it and knows where to find it. Keep a note in your wallet or purse to say you have made a living will and give a copy to your GP.
As feelings can change over time it is important to review your decision regularly to ensure it still meets your wishes.
You can find more from Age UK and more on advance decisions in respect of Alzheimer’s.