In Northern Ireland Advance Decisions are given legal effect under common law. This means that a clear and specific Advance Decision must be followed. If a healthcare professional knows about an Advance Decision and chooses to ignore it, they can be taken to court.
In Northern Ireland there’s no way to give another person the legal power to make decisions about your health or care on your behalf (known as appointing a Lasting Power of Attorney). This means that if you lack capacity to make a decision your doctor should consult your loved ones about what treatment would be in your best interests, but they don’t have to follow what your loved ones say.
Making an Advance Decision if you live in Northern Ireland
Planning ahead is a crucial part of ensuring your wishes are respected. It tells healthcare professionals how you want to be cared for if you become too ill to make decisions or speak for yourself.
One of the general principles of the General Medical Council’s GMC’s guidance on end of life care is that if someone lacks capacity to make a decision for themselves and needs medical treatment, the wishes of the person should be taken into consideration when making a decision on their behalf. So although Advance Decisions aren’t legally binding in Northern Ireland, healthcare professionals should take them into account when any decision is made on your behalf. Family and friends can also use them as evidence of your wishes.
If you have ideas about what kind of treatment you would want to refuse or accept in specific circumstances then an Advance Decision will help to ensure your wishes are followed. It can act as a direct communication between you and the doctors treating you, allowing you to speak for yourself and meaning that other people will not have the responsibility of making life and death decisions on your behalf.
Preparing an Advance Decision can make things easier for your family and friends because it helps them to understand what you want when you are nearing the end of life. The process of planning ahead can also help to open up a dialogue between you and your loved ones or healthcare professionals about your wishes for the future, helping to initiate what can sometimes be a difficult conversation.
If you live in England, Wales or Scotland you can refuse treatment in advance by making an Advance Decision or Advance Directive, and you can give another person the legal right to make decisions on your behalf by making a Power of Attorney.