‘Advance decision’ is the formal name for a living will. It allows you to indicate that you wish to refuse certain types of medical treatment, should you be unable to make or communicate a decision about your treatment in the future.
When you’re ill, you can usually discuss treatment options with your doctor and then jointly reach a decision about your future care. However, you may be admitted to hospital when unconscious or unable to make your own decisions about your treatment or communicate your wishes.
For example, this may happen if you have a car accident or a stroke or develop dementia. To use the legal term, you would ‘lack capacity’ to make or communicate your decision.
In these situations, doctors must act in your best interests. The exception is if you’ve made an advance decision.
An advance decision lets you indicate that you want to refuse certain types of medical treatment in certain situations.
It must be respected by medical professionals providing your care, whether or not they think it’s in your best interests.
The term ‘living will’ can also be used to refer to an advance statement. While advance decisions let you refuse certain types of treatment, advance statements cover any other decisions about how you would like to be treated.
For example, you could specify your food preferences and your religious and other beliefs. Only an advance decision is legally binding, but an advance statement should be taken into account.
If you have strong feelings about particular types of treatment, you may wish to make an advance decision.
You may want to refuse a blood transfusion, or an amputation. More commonly, if you’ve been told you have a terminal illness or dementia, you may wish to indicate which types of treatment you wouldn’t want to receive in the future.
An advance decision can give you peace of mind knowing your wishes won’t be ignored.
Download the guide Powers of attorney (PDF 808 KB)
Download the factsheet Advance decisions, advance statements and living wills (PDF 181 KB)
Download the factsheet Arranging for someone to make decisions about your finances or welfare (PDF 312 KB)
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