A Living Will or Advance Directive, conveys your wishes at a time when you cannot speak for yourself, e.g. if you are unconscious and decisions need to be made. It allows you to indicate what sort of treatment/s you would like and/or the situations that you would not give your consent to.
Advance Directives and Living Wills
An Advance Directive, is an instruction given by a patient to a physician about how they are to be treated in the event of medical intervention. This type of agreement is standard everyday medical practice. For example, prior to childbirth, an expectant mother will discuss various options available and decide, in advance, on a course of action for the birth. This is common as the woman may not want to focus on medical options when going through labour.
A Living Will is a type of Advance Directive which sets out instructions for a course of action in a case where a terminal prognosis has been made. This will clarify what type of treatment the patient does or does not want, in quite a specific manner. In reality, thinking through each possible situation can be complex, time-consuming and quite difficult to do. It’s important therefore to make a time with you GP to discuss this.
While you may wish to refuse medical treatment (a right under The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights) the doctors acting on your directives must act within the law. They need to be assured that you were competent to make that decision at the time, that you were sufficiently informed and that you weren’t being pressured. They will also need to establish whether the directive applies to the situation at hand. You can therefore understand the importance of making a written, dated and signed directive (even through this is not compulsory), frequently reviewing it, and having ongoing discussions about this subject with those closest to you.
These documents are some options that can help you think about what types of treatment you may or may not want to receive if you can no longer make decisions for yourself. These sets of documents could take away some of the ambiguity around your care. However, as it is difficult to think about every situation there can be issues with vagueness in a typical ‘Living Will’. Talk with your GP and other health professionals about your wishes, and with your loved ones so they are clear that you have already decided what you want, and are aware of what you want.