I recently had a discussion with a client and the subject of advance directives (sometimes known as living wills) arose. It is a sad matter to talk about, but the fact is, in life some people do become incapacitated either physically, mentally or both.
A person may suffer from extreme dementia and have no idea what is happening to them. Someone may be diagnosed with a terminal illness and another person may be involved in an accident. None of us want to think it may be us or a loved one who is incapacitated but who knows what the future holds.
Of course many people will not have given a thought to what they would like to happen were they to become incapable but for others it can be a serious concern, particularly if a person is suffering from a serious illness or is immobilized after an accident and does not want to prolong their life.
An advance directive may help in these circumstances. It is a statement of your wishes as to what treatment should or should not be given in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes to medical professionals. Doctors generally follow information received from next of kin but by putting in place an advance directive medical attendants will have guidance as to their actual patient’s wishes.
An advance directive should specify what kind of treatment the adult does not want to receive such as:
- Artificial ventilation
- Certain medicines (such as antibiotics to treat infections) and
- Artificial feeding.
If you decide that you would like to have an advance directive you should:
- Take legal advice
- Let your family know your requests
- Send a copy to your GP
If you are concerned that you might change your mind, an advance directive can be revoked at any time, verbally or in writing.
Advance directives are not legally binding in Scotland but they are highly persuasive. In the event of a dispute, the existence of an advance directive will be of great assistance to a court making a judgement. It is not possible to request to have your life ended. Assisted suicide is not legal in the UK.