Life Sustaining Treatment

Within the Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney there is a specific question about life sustaining treatment. You have to choose and if you don’t make a choice, you will be deemed to have chosen not to allow your Attorneys to make life sustaining decisions.

If you choose not to appoint your Attorneys, decisions will be made by the healthcare professionals looking after you. They will take into account what you family have to say, but they are the decision makers. They make average and risk averse decisions and they take the burden of giving or refusing life sustaining treatment from your family.

When LPAs were first introduced, this caused a big stir about “euthanasia by the back door”. Euthanasia is about ending someone’s life earlier than would naturally happen; it is a positive act and is illegal in this country. Decisions about life sustaining treatment are more like decisions by omission; they are about not doing something and allowing a natural end to come shortly, rather than taking some medical intervention to prevent the end coming. I heard lots and lots of people say something along the lines of if that happens to me “just shoot me” – but that’s illegal! People are often less afraid of dying than they are of living and being very unwell.

Life sustaining decisions means that a natural end is very close. Depending on the nature of the end, it can be very painful and therefore hastened by a few hours with strong pain relief; however a shorter pain free end is probably preferable to a longer more painful one, but this is not seen as euthanasia.

We live in a death phobic society; we don’t see death or talk about death. There are news announcements about a new wonder drug and how many lives it will save, but all it does is postpone death. We all die.

Death is part of life and how we pass may happen without any choice on our behalf or we may have some input. I’ve had a few clients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and the shock is very hard to take in first instance. However once they get over the shock, they have the benefit of being able to prepare for the inevitable end that we all come to.

So no matter how hard the conversation, it is worth discussing these issues with those around you, so that if an accident happens, then your family will know what you want. I’ve had people who’ve chosen their whole funeral service, down to who will do what reading and which hymns are sung, others just choose to be buried or cremated.

But as I’ve said: death is a part of life, so make the choices to have the death you want, which is as important as having the life you want.