Living Will

Living Will - (Advance Directives)

Although they are not "Wills", more and more people consider whether it is possible to make provision for a time when they may be physically or mentally incapable of taking medical decisions for themselves by making a "Living Will". Many people fear the prospect of degeneration and/or indignity as much, if not more than, death. In these circumstances a Living Will (or "Advance Directive" as it is sometimes called) may be of very real assistance.

Every person has the right to die in dignity, free from efforts to prolong terminal illnesses just because the technology is available to do so. In fact it can be a very heavy burden for doctors and family to decide whether or not to keep a patient alive when there is no real hope. The family and hospital often do not know what to do and people are left wondering if they have made the right decision.

It is often very helpful for the medical team looking after a patient to know what his/her wishes are in certain eventualities. Very few people really want to be kept alive indefinitely in a persistent vegetative state but sometimes friends, family and doctors feel obliged to do this because they do not know what the patient's wishes were.

A Living Will or Advance Directive can help solve this problem and it can also mean that the patient has been involved in the decision-making process. Even the Catholic Church in the 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia accepted that "When inevitable Death is imminent it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life."

A Living Will can, for example, indicate whether in certain circumstances medical treatment should be directed to saving life at all costs or merely relieving suffering even if such relief could shorten life. Or it may express a wish that a certain person be involved in decisions about medical care or that a certain person be contacted if death is imminent. This latter point is extremely important in the case of co-habiting couples. It is quite bad enough to be terminally ill without having one's loved one pushed out of the picture by "family" who are technically the Next-of-Kin. In these circumstances it can very well make a great deal of sense to name your partner as the proxy who can and should be involved in medical decisions.