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Living Wills

Living Wills or Advance Health Care Directives are documents which set out a person’s wishes about what actions should be taken regarding their health care if they are no longer able to make decisions due to illness or incapacity.  The instruction appoints someone to make such decisions on their behalf.

Living Wills should not just be thought about in old age since death can occur at any age.  Some people will say they are afraid of death when what they mean is not the moment of death but the process of dying.  Death is the final moment of life but dying is the journey a person must take in the last phase of life.  People often fear weakness, pain, physical dependence and mental deterioration more than cessation of life.  The uncertainty surrounding the process of dying for each one of us is one quite compelling reason for the use of Living Wills.

There are advantages and disadvantages of Living Wills:-


–          They respect the patients human rights and, in particular, their right to reject medical treatment

–          Creating them encourages full discussion about end of life decisions

–          Knowing what the patient wants means that doctors are more likely to give appropriate treatment

–          They may help medical professionals in taking difficult decisions and the patient’s family and friends do not have to take them


–          Writing them can be upsetting or depressing

–          It can be difficult for a healthy person to imagine what they would really want in the situation where a Living Will would take effect

–          It may be difficult to translate the words of the Living Will into actual medical action

–          Patients may change their minds in the light of new treatments and advances in medical science and forget to change their Living Wills

–          They are of no use if they cannot be found quickly when needed

Living Wills, Advance Directives and Advance Decisions are all given legal authority under the Mental Capacity Act of 2005.  This declares that such documents are valid as long as they are signed, dated and witnessed by the person when they were mentally competent to do so and decisions were freely made.

“A Lasting Power of Attorney” was introduced by the Mental Capacity Act and enables a person to grant one or more people authority to make decisions on their behalf.  There are two types – one to deal with property and financial affairs and one for Welfare which covers personal care and medical treatment.  The welfare lasting Power of Attorney allows the appointment of someone to make medical decisions for someone else only if they lack the capacity to make their own decision.  A person who is appointed Power of Attorney can also make decisions about life sustaining treatment but this must be specifically stated in the documents.

Decisions about medical treatment expressed in Living Wills, Advance Care Directives and Welfare Power of Attorney documents need to be clear and should be discussed with a medical practitioner.  All other legal aspects need to be approved by a qualified legal practitioner.  Correct wording is essential to ensure that a person’s wishes are legally binding and the documents must be regularly updated and always signed, dated and witnessed.

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