The recent Coronation Street storyline about the suicide of terminally ill Hayley Cropper has sparked a fierce debate about the individual’s right to die.
In the soap, the much-loved character takes a fatal cocktail of drugs rather than let her condition worsen until she is no longer physically able to end her own life. She feared that if she did so, she would be forced to ask her husband Roy to help her commit suicide – a heartbreakingly difficult position in which she, understandably,could not bear to place him.
Of course, assisted suicide is not legal in the UK. However, anyone with concerns about their future care can take a number of precautions to guard against being kept alive beyond the point that they would wish or to ensure that their wishes regarding treatment are put into effect.
One option is known as an Advanced Decision.An advance decision gives you the opportunity to make decisions now about specific treatments that you may not want to receive in the future. The purpose is to ensure that, if you are not able to make decisions about treatment or consent in the future, you are not forced to receive treatment that you would not want.
Treatment that can be refused includes life-sustaining treatment. For example, some people may write an advance decision to refuse a blood transfusion for religious or spiritual reasons, even if this will hasten their own death. Another common example is for a person to express the wish that they do not want to be resuscitated.
Advance decisions are legally binding as long as they fulfil certain requirements, and this means that they must be followed by doctors and other medical professionals.
Another option is a Lasting Power of Attorney for health and welfare. A health and welfare LPA allows someone nominated by you – the attorney – to make decisions on your behalf about your health and welfare, if there comes a time when you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. A health and welfare attorney could make decisions about where you live, for example, or day-to-day care including your diet and what you wear.
You can also give your health and welfare attorney the power to accept or refuse life-sustaining treatment on your behalf. It’s important to be aware of the effect this decision can have on any advance decision that you have previously made. If you allow your attorney to make these treatment decisions for you, this will overrule any previous advance decision. If you choose not to give your attorney this power, your advance decision will still stand.
A health and welfare LPA can only be used once the form is registered and you are in a position where you don’t have the mental capacity to make decisions about your own welfare.
Beecham Peacock Solicitors in Newcastle can advise on Advance Decisions and Lasting Powers of Attorney. Call us on 0191 2323048 or email firstname.lastname@example.org