What is an Advance Decision / Living Will?

An Advance Decision, also known as a Living Will, is a statement made by you which either gives instructions about the type of medical treatment you would like to have in the event that you become ill or are no longer able to make or communicate your own decisions, or, in which you refuse to have certain treatments. An Advance Decision is a decision to refuse treatment; and advanced statement is any other decision about how you would like to be treated.

A common type of reason for writing an Advance Decision is when someone does not want to be kept alive if you are in a coma and won’t get better. An Advance Statement should be taken into account by medical professionals when deciding what is in your best interests but if you have a valid Advance Decision to refuse treatment the medical professionals treating you are bound to follow it whether or not they think it is in your best interests.

Can I ask the Doctor to help me die in an Advance Decision?

No. You cannot use an Advance Decision to request that a doctor does anything illegal such as actively help you to die. You also cannot lawfully refuse basic care, such as being fed by mouth, being kept clean and being given pain relief.

Should I speak to my Doctor before making an Advance Decision?

Yes. Your doctor can help you understand about any specific conditions that may arise in your circumstances and you can make provision for these in your Advance Decision or Advance Statement. It is also a good idea to ensure that your doctor knows you have made such a document incase something should happen to you.

How do people know about my Advance Decision if something happens to me?

You should make sure that your doctor and those people who are close to you know about your Advance Decision or Advance Statement and you can appoint one of them to act as proxy in the event of something happening to you meaning that they are consulted about health care decisions. It is also a good idea to carry something on your person that tells whoever reads it that you have made such a document and gives the details of who they should contact to see it (in a similar way to your carrying a Donor Card for example).

Can I change my mind once I have made an Advance Decision?

As long as you are mentally capable you can revoke an Advance Decision at any time. Make sure that once you have done so you also inform all the people who knew of the existence of the Advance Decision in order to avoid any confusion.

I already have a Living Will, can I still use it?

Yes, but if it was made before 1 October 2007 it may not be valid unless it was prepared in accordance with the requirements as set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005.