Making a living will


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Every adult with mental capacity has the right to agree to or refuse medical treatment. To make your advance wishes clear you can use a living will. Living wills can include general statements about your wishes, which aren't legally binding, and specific refusals of treatment called 'advanced decisions' or 'advance directives'.

General written statements

A general written statement (sometimes called an 'advance statement') can set out which treatments you feel you would or wouldn't like to receive should you lose mental capacity in the future.

Advance statements aren't legally binding, but health professionals do have to take them into account when deciding on a course of action. Family and friends can also use them as evidence of your wishes.

You could also make your views known verbally, for example, when discussing treatment with a health care professional, but having it written down may make things clearer for everyone.

What a statement might include

  • treatment you would be happy to have, and in what circumstances
  • treatment you would want, no matter how ill you are
  • treatment you would prefer not to have, and in what circumstances
  • someone you would like to be consulted about your treatment at the time a decision needs to be made

It can also include a specific refusal of treatment, which has a different legal status.

If writing an advance statement, bear in mind that new drugs or treatments may be introduced in the future. So you could, for example, state that you would prefer not to receive certain current treatments but would allow for new treatments.

Include your name, address, date and signature in the advance statement. It's also advisable to say you understand what you're doing and are capable of making such decisions. And you may want to get the statement signed by a witness who can say that you had capacity at the time.

Living wills and mental capacity

You can still make a living will if you're diagnosed with a mental illness, as long as you can show that you understand the implications of what you're doing. You need to be competent to make the decision in question, not necessarily to make other decisions.

It's best to put your wishes in writing and explain:

  • why you've made your decision about how you do/don't want to be treated
  • what you understand about the treatment you're agreeing to or refusing
  • why you're making these decisions now

Who needs to know about a living will?

Itís important that your living will is entered into your medical notes so that in an emergency it is found and acted upon. Consider sending a copy to your doctor and to any hospital which is treating you and to your nearest relative/s. If your living will is verbal, make sure close relatives or friends are aware.

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