The sad story of Brenda Grant from Nuneaton, Warwickshire was reported last month. Brenda suffered a stroke in October 2012 which left her unable to walk, talk or feed herself.
She was admitted to hospital for treatment but what doctors failed to discover in her medical notes was an Advance Decision or Living Will which Brenda had previously signed.
A Living Will is an instruction, made whilst you enjoy full mental capacity, refusing future medical treatment for certain medical conditions should you lack mental capacity at that future time. If life-sustaining treatment is being refused, the instruction needs to be in writing and independently witnessed.
Brenda executed such a document and passed it to her doctor so it was amongst her medical records. However, she did not inform her family of what she had done.
After suffering the stroke, Brenda was kept alive for 22 months, having to be fed through a tube for some of that time. This made her agitated causing her to suffer indignity as she tried to pull the tubes out. To prevent her doing this, she was made to wear mittens.
It was later discovered by her then GP that Brenda had a Living Will in place which was found to be a valid and applicable instruction to Brenda’s future medical team. On discovery, Brenda’s wishes were eventually honoured and her life-sustaining treatment was removed. Brenda died on 4 August 2014.
A living will is one way of dealing with your wishes should disaster strike and you suffer a sudden or gradual decline in physical and/or mental health.
If you lose mental capacity and can’t communicate your wishes, as Brenda couldn’t, the Living Will can make people aware of what your wishes would be in such a situation.
However, the danger is that Living Wills can become out of date, particularly with advances in medical treatment or be inadvertently revoked by contrary decisions taken by the maker after making the living will.
A Lasting Power of Attorney for health and care decisions can overcome some of the drawbacks with a Living Will. A properly appointed attorney or attorneys who are aware of your wishes and feelings in any given situation, but who can consider the up to date medical information, may be a better choice of empowering oneself if in a situation like Brenda’s.
There is also less chance that the decision could get overlooked as the attorneys would be aware of their appointment to make such decisions.
For further advice or discussion on Living Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney for health and care decisions or property and finance decisions please contact Ann-Marie Aston of the Wilkes Partnership on 0121 733 8000 or email on [email protected]