Are you prepared for the future?

Those of us who watched the BBC’s play ‘A Short Stay in Switzerland’ last night may be wondering today how they would cope if confronted with a similar problem. The programme told the story of Anne Turner who, faced with the prospect of dying from the degenerative disease, PSP, opted for an assisted suicide in Switzerland before her symptoms became too severe.

We all hope not to be faced with these sorts of challenging decisions about our lives and our medical care but none of us can tell what the future brings and there is a way of preparing for the future to make sure that where possible our wishes are carried out if we become unable to express them.

Living Wills (or Advanced Directives to give them their technical name) were given full legal force by the Mental Capacity Act just over a year ago. In a Living Will, you can write down what you would like to happen if you were faced with a medical condition which impaired your ability to convey your wishes.

For example,

  • If you suffered a specific illness such as stroke or dementia which affected your ability to make or communicate decisions
  • If there is a specific treatment which you know you would never be prepared to accept eg blood transfusions for Jehovah’s witnesses.
  • If you want to die with dignity and avoid futile medical intervention

Living Wills cannot be used to request a lethal injection such as that administered to Anne as such a practice is still illegal in this country but they can be used to refuse treatment and such requests will usually be adhered to by the medical profession provided they are aware of the existence of the directive and it covers the condition with which they are faced. A Living Will can also request that specific medical treatment is given.

Henry Anstey, head of hc solicitors’ Wills, Trusts and Probate department, commented:
“An advance directive does not have to be drawn up by a solicitor but neither does a Will. However, the involvement of a solicitor should avoid the chance of an oversight that would result in failure of the Will or directive to be observed. A Will usually has to be signed by the author and co-signed by two independent witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the Will and the it is safest to observe the same procedure for an advanced directive.”

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.