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What is a living will?

Will -fixed -feeA living will is an instruction to the medical profession about your wishes in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to give instructions on your own. For instance, you can give instructions to the effect that you do not wish to be resuscitated if you are suffering from a particular medical condition.

Modern medicine offers treatments for many conditions which were previously almost always fatal. Many of these treatments are invasive, painful and reduce the quality of a person's life in order to extend it. Often, these treatments are offered and undertaken even where there is little chance of success.

Making your own decisions while you still can

Increasingly, there is recognition in society that people should be allowed to choose how to die, and to die with dignity. In such cases, a living will can be important. If you feel that you would rather choose about how and where you die, then a living will may be for you. This decision may be taken from you, in the event that you are incapacitated or are left physically or mentally unable to communicate your wishes.

A living will, sometimes known as an 'advance directive' or an “advance medical directive” allows you to put your wishes in writing and state which treatments, if any, you would want carried out, or not carried out, in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes to doctors, perhaps due to some mental or physical ailment. It is thought (although there is no legal authority in Scotland on this point as yet) that an advance directive refusing treatment is binding in Scotland providing it was made at a time when the granter had capacity to do so and that the granter sufficiently understood the nature, purpose and effect of the proposed treatment and the probable consequences of refusal.

A living will is not to be confused with assisted suicide. Assisted suicide involves asking someone to help you take your life when you are no longer capable of doing so. A living will is simply an advance refusal of certain medical treatments.

Having a living will in place means that your loved ones know your wishes, sparing them a very difficult decision at a hard time.

Lindsay Maclean
Partner, Head of Personal Law
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