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Would you want to be kept alive against your will?

View profile for Helen Taylor TEP
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Brenda Grant made an Advance Directive, commonly known as a Living Will, stating she feared degradation and indignity more than death after seeing her own mother lose her independence through dementia.  She did not tell her family about it but correctly told her GP and the hospital.

But the George Eliot hospital, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, misplaced the document and she was artificially fed by peg for 22 months and discharged into a care home, both things she did not want.  Eventually, her GP alerted her family to the existence of an Advance Directive on a later hospital admission.  The document was finally found buried in a bundle of her medical notes and her wishes were at last acted on.

The trust has apologised for its failure and has been ordered to pay £45,000 compensation to the family.

However, money cannot undo the 22 months of suffering that Mrs Grant had to endure.  She went to the trouble of putting in place a legally binding document setting out her wishes regarding health care and how she wanted to be treated in the event she was unable to make her own choices.  She made it clear that she wished to refuse potentially life-sustaining treatment.

So what can you do, if like Mrs Grant the right to make your own decisions about your health care and treatment is important to you and you have put an Advance Directive into place?

Firstly, notify your GP, hospital and other health care professionals involved with you.

Then, difficult though it might be, discuss with your family and let them know the existence and whereabouts of the Advance Directive.  Remember that it is only going to be used when you do not have the capacity to have your say at the time!

Review the Advance Directive on a regular basis, we suggest at least annually, and let your GP and other healthcare professionals know you have done so.  It might be worth adding a statement to it to say you have reviewed it and the date.

Lastly, make sure you get specialist advice, Advance Directives are legal documents that have to be worded and signed properly to be valid and legally binding.  Specialist Solicitors, like members of Solicitors for the Elderly, have undertaken additional training and have lots of experience in such matters.  There are also many charities which can help.

If you would like to obtain advice or guidance regarding Advance Directives (Living Wills), please contact Helen Taylor TEP, who is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly on 01604 828282 or email helen.taylor@franklins-sols.co.uk

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