The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to take action to ensure their legal matters are in order, including
making wills and advance decisions
What is an advance decision? A living will, or an advance decision, is a legal document setting out your instructions for the refusal of medical treatment. Under the current law of England and Wales, it is not possible to demand a certain treatment
(this relies on the professional judgement of the treating clinician), but you can refuse treatment if you are well enough to do so.
There might be unforeseen circumstances, when an accident or an illness leaves you unable to refuse life-sustaining treatment. If you did not make an advance decision or a health and welfare lasting power of attorney (LPA), the clinical team must use their own judgement on whether or not to proceed with a certain treatment, and the preservation of life at all costs is often the driving force.
If your family disagrees with the clinical team, they can apply to the Court of Protection. However, this can be a stressful, slow and expensive process and the decision could arrive too late.
What powers do the next of kin have?
Many people are unaware that a family has no decision-making power in the clinical process at all, unless the patient has appointed them as health and welfare attorneys. A well-drafted advance decision can set out precisely how you might want to refuse life-sustaining treatment. For example, you could specify that at least two doctors must agree that there is no prospect of recovery to a certain level, such as communication or mobility.
A valid and applicable advance decision is legally enforceable, and doctors will not be able to administer life-sustaining treatment under the circumstances you have specified.