What is an advance decision?

An advance decision is a legally binding document that outlines what type of treatment and end-of-life-care you would like to receive in the future when you are no longer to express or communicate what treatment or care you would like. It outlines specific wishes such as whether you would want to be resuscitated if you were to stop breathing and also whether you’d like to donate your organs after you have died. It also covers the type of treatment you may or may not wish to have. For instance, you may now decide that further down the line, when your dementia is more advanced, you may not wish to be prescribed antibiotics if you develop pneumonia.

Why make an advance decision?
The medical profession is trained to treat patients and preserve life, but you may have your own views about whether or not you like to receive treatment when your health declines.

Solicitor Gary Rycroft from Joseph A Jones Solicitors says: ‘We are all entitled to refuse medical treatment. If we are lacking capacity, if we can’t communicate our wishes to the medical staff, having it written down in the form of an advance decision in a way that is legally binding means that the doctors will honour your wishes. We all have our own views of what’s important to us and the advance decision is a way of writing down your views for the future for a time when you can’t communicate them yourself.’

It will be reassuring to you and your family to know that you will receive the treatment and end-of-life-care you would like. It will also take the burden off your family, as you will have made important decisions about your care in advance.

The medical profession must follow your advance decision provided it is considered that it was made when you were deemed to have mental capacity and also that the decision is applicable. This means that the wording must be relevant to the medical circumstances that have arisen. The advance decision must be clear and specific. It may not be used when you are still capable of communicating and have capacity. You may wish to discuss your advance decision with your GP before you write one and if you are still unsure or have concerns, then it’s worth discussing it with a solicitor.

Can you write one yourself?
Yes but you need to be very specific about your wishes and make it clear that this is an advance decision. You have to set out specific scenarios where you would want to refuse medical treatment.

Is there a template you can use for an advance decision?
The Alzheimer’s Society’s website has one and the key is to be specific in that you clearly state that the document is an advance decision and outline your wishes in a clear and concise way.

Do you need to involve a solicitor?
Not necessarily but you may want to inform your GP and make sure they have a copy of the advance decision, along with your family and loved ones. If you write one yourself, you must include your name, address, date of birth and the name, address and telephone number of your GP, as well as the date and your signature. Arrange for someone over the age of 18 to sign and witness the document too. You don’t have to give a copy to your solicitor but you may wish to do so if they have a copy of your will on file.