Leading judge wants ‘living wills’ to be made compulsory
One of Britain’s leading judges has called for living wills to be made compulsory to prevent disputes about the kind of medical treatment offered to patients who are unconscious or unable to make their feelings known.
A living will, also known as an advance decision, enables you to write down how you wish to be cared for if you fall ill at some point in the future. This could involve the medicine you are prepared to accept or even whether you want to refuse treatment in certain circumstances.
Mr Justice Francis said living wills would help to prevent disputes and reduce stress for patients and their families. He made the comments while presiding over a case involving an elderly patient suffering from a condition that has left him in a minimal conscious state.
The man’s family disagreed with hospital staff over the kind of treatment he should be given. The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust applied to the Court of Protection, which adjudicates on issues involving vulnerable people, for a ruling to resolve the issue.
At the hearing, Mr Justice Francis said: "It should be compulsory that we all have to make living wills because these cases would be resolved much more easily. We all ought to be encouraged to tackle these issues.
"If there was some sort of campaign to educate people about these sort of things, I think people would actually do something about it."
Living wills are often drawn up at the same time as Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA). These are legal documents that allow you to nominate someone you trust to be your representative or ‘attorney’ to make decisions on your behalf if you ever lose mental capacity at some time in the future.
They are overseen by the Office of the Public Guardian and the Court of Protection to ensure they can’t be abused.
The property and finance LPA allows you to appoint someone to look after your financial affairs and the personal welfare LPA lets you grant an attorney authority over such matters as health care and the kind of treatment you receive.
If you don’t have an LPA, your family may have to go through complicated court procedures to be granted authority to manage your affairs. If your family disagree with the kind of treatment you’re being given by hospital staff, as in this case, they or the NHS may have to apply to the Court of Protection to resolve the matter.
That can create extra stress and expense for your loved ones at a time when they are already worried about you.
Thousands of people set up LPAs every year to ensure that their interests and wishes will be respected if the worst comes to the worst at some point in the future.
Please contact Nigel Gibson-Birch or Josie Birnie if you would like more information about Living Wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney.