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End of life decisions – what can you do?

The Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that where a patient is in a vegetative or minimally conscious state judges will no longer need to be consulted when there is agreement regarding life support between relatives and doctors. This is likely to have a big impact on the relatives of patients who are in a vegetative state as they will no longer have to go through the long, expensive and no doubt stressful court action.  
But what can you do during your lifetime to ensure your wishes are taken into account in any end-of-life care?
Living will
One of the options is to put a living will, which is sometimes referred to as an Advanced Statement, in place. This is a document that states what you would wish to happen should you ever suffer from conditions such as severe and lasting brain damage, advanced degenerative disease or dementia including Alzheimers. In the living will you can state that you do not wish your life to be artificially prolonged by life support machines or tube feeding or other treatment if you suffer from one of the listed conditions.
Once a living will is signed a copy should be kept with your GP as well as with your will and other important documents. A living will should be re-signed each year, even just at the bottom of the document, so as to ensure that there can be no ambiguity that the living will represents your current feelings. The argument being if you signed a living will a number of years ago, your wishes may have changed since it was signed.
Power of attorney
Another option that ensures your wishes are taken into account during any end-of-life care is to put a power of attorney in place. A power of attorney covers both financial and welfare matters and it is the welfare part that allows your attorney, who is somebody that you have chosen, to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to. It is important that you appoint somebody that you trust to carry out your wishes and that you discuss this with them. Should the power of attorney ever be required then they will have the authority to make those welfare decisions on your behalf.
The welfare powers in a power of attorney would only come in to place if you were to ever lose mental capacity. Your attorney would not be able to make these decisions, which include where you should stay, if you had capacity, it is only if you were ever to lose capacity that they would be able to use them. It often gives your welfare attorney peace of mind if you have previously granted a living will as they can be clear on your wishes for any end-of-life care.
A power of attorney lists all of the powers that your attorney will have. The document must be signed in the presence of a doctor or solicitor who confirms that the person signing the power of attorney has sufficient capacity to understand what they are signing. This is then registered with the Office of the Public Guardian and the registered copy is kept by the granter until it is needed.
Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above please contact reception on 0131 200 1200 and ask to speak to a member of our private client team.