A living will (or an advance decision as it is also known) allows you to make a decision about refusing medical treatment in the future. It means that if you are ever in a position where you cannot communicate your wishes, medical staff know what they are. This can even include a decision not to receive certain life-sustaining treatment.
An advance decision is a legally binding document. However, if your family or medical staff are unaware you have prepared one, then your wishes may not be honoured.
This was the case for Brenda Grant. Brenda suffered a stroke in 2012 and although she had prepared an advance decision stating that she did not want certain treatments, she was fed artificially for two years.
In this case the hospital was in possession of the advance decision but had misplaced it.
Whilst Brenda had informed her doctor of her decision, she had not told her family, so it was only when her doctor flagged it up two years later that her wishes were finally respected.
If she had chosen to prepare a lasting power of attorney (LPA) instead, this situation could have been avoided.
An LPA for health and welfare covers a wide range of issues relating to the care of an individual if they don’t have the capacity to make decisions for themselves.
Though it is a legal document just like the living will, it must be lodged with the Office of the Public Guardian in order for it to be recognised. This ensures that it will be recorded on a national and searchable register. One or more guardians (normally family members) must be appointed to make the decisions, so in the event of you not being able to make them yourself, there is less risk that your wishes will not be known.
A guardian must make decisions that are in the best interest of the donor (the person who the LPA relates to). The donor can detail what their preferences are and list any instructions for specific circumstances.
Whilst it is possible to have both a living will and an LPA for health and welfare set up, the latter will take precedence should a conflict arise.
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