I recently read a blog article by a Canadian lawyer which summarised and discussed a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. In that case, the Court ruled that doctors did not have the right to remove a comatose patient from life support, because the patient’s wife, as his default decision maker, would not consent to such removal. The patient had not completed what we refer to as an Advance Health Directive, so neither the Court, the doctors, nor the patient’s wife could be certain of the patient’s wishes.
Why should I have an Advance Health Directive?
Many of my clients view Advance Health Directives as complicated, daunting documents that force them to make unpleasant decisions. Unfortunately, the nature of an Advance Health Directive is to ask some confronting questions, but it is also the best way to let your family know what your wishes are in the event that you are unable to tell them yourself.
An Advance Health Directive will ask questions about how you would like to be cared for if you are unconscious or unable to communicate your wishes, such as:
- Would you like life sustaining measures to be taken, such as assistance with breathing or artificial nutrition or fluids?
- Would you like to be resuscitated in the event that your heart stops?
- Would you like pain relief or antibiotics, if required?
I strongly recommend that if you have personal or religious beliefs that affect these matters, you make an Advance Health Directive stating your wishes. An Advance Health Directive also prevents fights between family members about your care, and allows you to take the pressure off your loved ones to make difficult decisions at a time when emotions are likely to be running high.
When should I make an Advance Health Directive?
You should make an Advance Health Directive as soon as possible, before you lose the mental capacity to understand the document. I recommend that clients should review their Advance Health Directives every two years, or in the event of a major change to your health.
How do I make an Advance Health Directive?
Unlike an Enduring Power of Attorney or a Will, an Advance Health Directive is not a purely legal document. Once your estate planning solicitor has prepared the Advance Health Directive, you should take it to your General Practitioner so that they can explain the medical nature of the document to you and assist you in completing the first part of the form. You should then take it back to your solicitor so that your signature can be witnessed and the legal ramifications of the document can be explained to you.
Advance Health Directives are very important medical and legal documents. You can read more about them here, but should you have any further queries or if you would like to have an Advance Health Directive prepared, please contact me.