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Living Wills

The article below comes from a newsletter distributed by Sentinel Trust, and was written by Gordon Stuart:

From time to time I do get asked about a living will and whether it is a valid document.

Although Living wills are not yet recognised in statute law, according to Section 12 of the Constitution, “everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity”, which includes the right to have control over one’s own body. The law recognises an individual’s right to accept or decline treatment and this is where the living will plays a role. A living will stands as a patient’s non-consent to artificial life support when dying.

If a patient’s living will has been brought to the doctor’s attention and the doctor proceeds to administer life support, the doctor’s act is unlawful, even if refusal of such treatment will result in death. If a doctor does not obey the patient’s wishes regarding refusal of treatment, he/she has perpetrated an assault against the patient and can be sued for damages. A doctor who objects to the living will should offer to step aside and transfer the patients care to another practitioner.

Of note is the law will not pay attention to a living will where a patient makes unlawful wishes such as a request for euthanasia (mercy killing) or asking a doctor to end one’s life by lethal injection when a terminal illness begins to cause unbearable pain. This would amount to murder! A person 18 years or older can, however, ask for more painkillers, even though the result will be that he/she may die more quickly. The doctor can, by law, increase the painkillers as long as the doctor does this for the purpose of reducing pain, and not with the intention of killing the patient.

My good friend John, who very kindly looked at this from a legal perspective, shared his personal views on the topic as well:

My strong feelings are –have a living will for inter alia;

  1. You dictate how you will be treated if you are unable to communicate
  2. It absolves your family from having to make a very painful decision—it’s really not fair on them to leave them with this responsibility. A terrible conflict for a family that may lead to the bankrupting of the family finances as they try, out of guilt, to keep you alive.
  3. Can save you great pain & suffering—important to me—the idea of lying in great pain and not being able to instruct the granting of as high a dose of morphine as legally allowed-that worries one.
  4. Can save your estate much money
  5. Allows your demise to be dictated by your personal beliefs, and not those of the medical attendant.

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