Living wills LAW CORNER

2016-04-20 06:00

SHOULD I sign a living will?

Before being able to decide whether or not to sign a living will, you need to understand what a living will is.

Essentially, a living will is a document which you sign stating that if the time comes when you cannot speak for yourself, and if you are being kept alive artificially, your wish is not to be kept alive artificially and your preference is to be allowed to die.

Living wills often go on to state that if you are in pain, you would like to be relieved of that pain, even if the medication given to relieve the pain, hastens your hour of death.

Is a living will valid?

Our South African law does not recognise euthanasia. Furthermore, doctors have a duty to treat you if there is a prospect of life.

Whilst you have the right to refuse medical treatment, a living will is generally of application at a time when you cannot speak for yourself.

It is accordingly possible that you could sign a living will, and a doctor could decide that your particular circumstances justify continued treatment, notwithstanding the fact that you have signed a living will.

However, a living will can nevertheless be a useful document in that it ensures that your wishes are accessible to the doctors treating you and to close family and/or friends at a time when you are unable to express your own wishes.

The courts in South Africa have held in situations where a patient has signed a living will, that his wishes should be upheld.

Furthermore, a living will makes decisions easier for the people close to you to make in circumstances where you can no longer speak for yourself, as they know that your express wish is not to be kept alive artificially. In addition, the doctor treating you is aware of what your wish is.

For that reason, in situations where a decision needs to be made as to whether to treat a patient or rather to keep a patient comfortable, doctors will very often ask whether the patient has signed a living will.

Depending on each individual’s beliefs and thought processes, a living will can therefore be a useful document to sign.

If you do decide to have a living will, it is advisable to ensure that your doctor has a copy and that your close family or friends have a copy, as a living will is generally taken into account at a point in time when you are no longer able to express your own wishes..

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