It is possible in Northern Ireland to make a formal statement setting out your future wishes and preferences in medical care, in the event of mental incapacity. Such a statement is known as an Advance Directive or ‘Living Will’. To some a Living Will is controversial, to others it embodies the “right to choose”.
A Living Will cannot insist upon medical treatment being given but it can specify if and when medical treatment should be withheld to allow death to occur. This can include expressing a wish not to be resuscitated in certain specified and limited circumstances.
There are several benefits to making a Living Will:
- It can help you feel more in control of your circumstances and future care.
- It can help you avoid painful or difficult treatments that may not always be helpful anyway.
- It means your family will know what you want and can respect your wishes.
- It can help avoid disagreements about your care and treatment within your family or health and social care team.
A Living Will should not be entered into lightly and should be discussed with both a medical practitioner and experienced lawyer to be fully aware of the implications, and also the practicalities of where this document may be held to ensure that it is available to medical practitioners should circumstances set out in the Living Will come to pass.
There can be no doubt that it is a worthwhile exercise to consider what your future wishes may be should you become ill. However, this is an area unfamiliar to many lawyers.
At Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors, we have a particular interest in the development of Living Wills and in supporting clients and their families in ensuring that the terms of these are given effect by the medical professions.