With advances in medical science over the past 50 years or so, more and more health problems are now capable of being cured or arrested. As a result, the average age of the population has also risen substantially and many more people now live well into their eighties.
But "old age does not come alone" and the longer you live the greater the risk of a debilitating illness or condition that medical science is not yet able to deal with. An increasing number of people are becoming concerned about the quality of life they might be left with if they suffer a serious illness or other condition (such as a stroke) in later years which leaves them incapacitated to such an extent that they are being kept alive artificially, but with no prospect of recovery. In that situation it may be difficult (or even impossible) to express their wishes regarding how they are cared for.
With this in mind, some people now choose to make what is called an "Advance Directive" (otherwise known as a "Living Will") giving written instructions regarding their future health care in such an event. These instructions can, for instance, specify certain kinds of treatment they do not wish to receive, or give direction as to whether they should be kept alive by mechanical means, if their condition is such that they are unlikely to recover sufficiently to enjoy any quality of life.
When making an Advance Directive is is also usual to execute a "Health Care Proxy" authorising a spouse, partner or other trusted person to make decisions and give instructions regarding medical treatment where the patient is unable to do this personally. This is necessary to enable doctors and other medical staff to discuss with, and take instructions from, the authorised person on behalf of the patient.
Since October 2006, it is also possible to make a "Lasting Power of Attorney" (under the Mental Capacity Act 2005) appointing someone to help make health care decisions on your behalf. However, this is really intended as a means of ensuring that you receive appropriate care in the event of your losing mental capacity. It is also a fairly complicated procedure involving preparation of a lengthy document and payment of a registration fee to the office of the Public Guardians.
By contrast, "Living Wills" are relatively inexpensive and, although they are not prescribed by statute (and therefore do not have the same legal enforceability as a Power of Attorney), they are generally accepted by the medical profession as a statement of your wishes in the circumstances mentioned above.
If you would like to discuss making a Living Will, or if you have any questions you wish to clarify, please feel free to take advantage of our Free Advice Service and arrange an appointment for a free initial consultation.