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Dying With Dignity

View profile for Gail Donaldson
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Most of us do not like to think about our death but know that we would like to die with dignity and compassion.

There are an increasing number of terminally ill individuals who want to have a degree of control and choice over their final days and would like the option of an assisted death.  This is currently not legal in the UK and as a result many British people travel overseas to assisted dying clinics such as Dignitas in Switzerland.  Recent statistics show that Britons now make up one in five visitors to overseas assisted dying clinics and approximately one British citizen is travelling overseas every two weeks.

Many people believe it is unethical to force dying Britons to travel abroad to die through a lack of choice in this country.  This is a very emotive topic however as any law permitting assisted dying needs to have safeguards.

At the time of writing Lord Faulkner has tabled an Assisted Dying Bill and this is currently progressing through the House of Lords having recently had its second reading and is now waiting to be examined by committee.  If the bill does make it through the House of Lords it still has to go through the House of Commons.  It is unlikely to become law not least because there is a general election next year and the topic is simply too emotive.

Whilst current UK Law does not allow assisted dying there are some legal steps you can take now to help determine future treatment.

First of all you can draw up a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney.  This document would only be used if you were incapable of making your own decisions – and in these circumstances you can opt to allow your chosen attorneys  authority to make decisions about life sustaining treatment.  Life sustaining treatment is treatment that a doctor considers necessary to keep you alive.

Another option you might wish to consider is a Living Will – officially known as an advance decision.  This is a legal document which allows you to indicate that you would wish to refuse certain types of medical treatment should you be unable to make a decision or communicate a decision in the future.  The Living Will can be tailored in terms what treatments you would want to refuse.  It is important however that you acknowledge that if your wishes are carried out this could hasten your death.

It is possible to have a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney and a Living Will, but the Living Will can only be signed after the Health and Welfare Power of Attorney has been registered.  If you would like to talk to us about Health and Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney and Living Wills please contact any member of the private client team.