In the majority of cases when an individual is ill, they are able to talk to their doctor and mutually reach a decision about their treatment. It is a vital point of law that a mentally competent adult has to consent to medical treatment; it cannot be forced upon them.
However, there are times where an individual maybe unable to communicate their wishes to their doctor or a medical team. For example, being unconscious or they are lacking the mental capacity to be able to agree or disagree to any treatment that maybe rendered.
In these circumstances, a statement of that individual’s wishes with regard to medical treatment is extremely important and is known as an ‘Advance Directive’ or a ‘Living Will’.
The statement allows you to specify the kind of treatment you would or would not prefer if, at any time in the future, you are unable to communicate your wishes or be able to decide for yourself.
Certain requests CANNOT be made in an Advance Directive and these are;
- Ask for anything illegal such as euthanasia or help to commit suicide.
- Refuse the use of measures solely designed to improve comfort, such as pain relief.
- Demand care that the healthcare professionals and doctors consider inappropriate in the circumstances of your case.
- Refuse the offer of food and drink by mouth.
- Refuse basic nursing care which serves to maintain reasonable comfort such as washing, bathing and mouth care.
Once in place a regular review of the Advance Directive should be made. This will help the medical professional involved in your care to be clear that you have not changed your mind. The statement should be signed and dated after every review, (we would advise that the document is reviewed every year whilst possible).
It is advisable that a copy of the statement is kept with your medical records and your GP informed of its existence.