Can You Decide How You Want Your Life to End?


Not many people are aware of this, but there are two legal documents that people can use to make their wishes known and give clear instructions to the medical profession about what could happen if they are in a situation which might be described as “end of life.”

The first document is the ‘Lasting Power of Attorney’ relating to Health and Welfare matters. This document allows a person to appoint others to discuss their health and welfare with professionals where they can make their wishes known, not only about end of life decisions but how they would wish to be treated if they are unable to tell others. So, if you become mentally incapacitated (or even physically incapable of communication) then the people you appoint, called “health and welfare attorneys” will be able to make your wishes known to the doctors and other medical professionals.

The other document is called an ‘Advanced Medical Decision’ (commonly called Advance Directives) and this is the document where you set out in writing what you would wish to happen in certain circumstances. However, the document has to be clear and only be applicable to the particular circumstances that apply at any one time. It is more appropriate for instance if you are given a diagnosis of cancer or dementia, that you set out how you would wish to be treated when you can no longer give the medical profession instructions. The document should be signed and witnessed and dated. It is sensible to obtain advice as to how this form should be completed because of the need for it to be clear and precise. For instance, you cannot ask to be kept artificially alive even if that is what you want.

Liz Morris of Fraser Dawbarns said, “There have been many articles in the press about “assisted suicide” and “end of life decisions,” yet there is so much confusion in this area. I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to discuss this area contact a specialist solicitor who can advise you in this area. There have been cases where doctors have not read these documents and have carried on regardless. The best way is for you to discuss your requirements with a specialist solicitor who can then write to your consultant and ask the consultant to ensure that they have noted the contents of the form and agreed to act upon them if required. If doctors do not act on them, legal action can then be taken.”

Help is at hand through Solicitors for the Elderly which is a national association of lawyers who specialise in advising older and vulnerable people, for full details visit www.solicitorsfortheelderly.com.

Liz Morris, a member of Fraser Dawbarn’s Private Client department, is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly and can be contacted on 01945 586631 or lizmorris@fraserdawbarns.com if you would like if you would like to discuss these issues further.