With the Covid-19 pandemic more people are asking themselves if they need a Living Will (also known as an Advance Decision or Advance Directive). We look at why you may want a Living Will, the process for setting one up and the benefits to family members.
Last year saw record high admissions to Intensive Care Units due to the Covid-19 pandemic. News outlets reporting on the spread of the virus has given us an insight into the medical treatment available to patients in ICU such as artificial ventilation, antibiotics, artificial feeding and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
If you are undergoing these treatments, you may be unconscious or sedated and therefore unable to communicate your wishes regarding your care, leaving the decision-making to medical professionals and your family.
Creating a Living Will (also known as an Advance Medical Directive, or AMD) allows you to record your wishes and decisions in advance. This means that you can maintain a level of control in future medical decisions should you be unable to communicate these at the relevant time. This will hopefully provide you with some peace of mind that your voice will be heard when it comes to important decisions regarding intensive care and in what circumstances to discontinue treatment.
What does the process of a Living Will involve?
Every Living Will is specific to an individual and their wishes, as everyone has their own feelings about the appropriate treatment depending on the circumstances. Therefore, when drafting a Living Will, you should work with your solicitor to decide on the circumstances in which the Living Will should come into effect. This may include suffering from a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s, severe brain damage or any condition resulting in a persistent vegetative state. Another common condition may be the requirement of two professional medical opinions that the granter is unlikely to make a substantial recovery from the illness.
You may also wish to stipulate in your Living Will that you do not wish to undergo certain medical treatments aimed at prolonging your life, where particular conditions are met. This should offer reassurance that you will not be subjected to certain treatments you may feel are degrading or undignified when receiving end of life care.
Of course, a Living Will can be revoked or amended at any time whilst you retain mental capacity. In fact, it is essential that Living Wills are reviewed regularly and updated if necessary. If you are diagnosed with a serious illness, we would also recommend that you review and update the Living Will as necessary.
Benefits to family members of a Living Will
The prospect of death and intensive care are understandably conversations we tend to avoid with family members. Living Wills are useful in opening the lines of communication between loved ones to ensure family members are not left wondering what you would have wanted in terms of medical care, in the event that you are unable to communicate this directly.
It is important to remember that a Living Will can only be used once you have lost capacity to participate in the decision-making. Therefore, it is important that certain individuals are aware of the existence of a Living Will. We would suggest that you discuss it with your family so that they are aware you have prepared one. Whilst not legally binding, it also provides a useful function in assisting your Welfare Attorney and the clinicians involved in your care as to your wishes, so make sure that any appointed Attorneys and your GP are aware of its existence and contents.
How can we help with your Living Will?
At BTO we have a team of experienced and approachable solicitors who can provide professional advice and create a Living Will tailored to reflect your wishes to give you and your family peace of mind. Alternatively, if you have an existing Living Will which you wish to review or update, please let us know.