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What is an Advance Decision (Living Will) used for?

What can I refuse in an Advance Decision (Living Will)?

You can use an Advance Decision (Living Will) to refuse any medical treatment including life-sustaining treatment, such as:

  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops
  • being put on a ventilator if you cannot breathe on your own
  • being given food or fluids artificially, for example through a drip, a tube through the nose or through a tube directly into the stomach
  • antibiotics for a life-threatening infection

What can’t I use an Advance Decision (Living Will) for?

You can’t use an Advance Decision to:

  • Ask for something illegal, such as assistance to end your life.
  • Refuse to be offered food and drink by mouth or to refuse care that keeps you clean and comfortable. This is because these things are part of basic care, which healthcare professionals have a duty to provide.
  • Choose someone else to decide about treatment on your behalf. Choosing another person to make decisions about your health and care is done by making a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare. 
  • Demand certain treatments. This is because doctors don’t have to give you treatment just because you ask for it. Doctors decide whether treatment is medically appropriate for your condition and then you decide whether or not you want that treatment.


Mrs Bell's story

Mrs Bell has been diagnosed with cancer and knows that she does not have many months left to live. She wants to enjoy the last months of her life and spend time with friends and family, so she has decided she does not want to undergo any surgery. She speaks to her doctor about the kinds of surgery that would be likely in her situation and writes them down in a legally binding Advance Decision. She gives a copy to her son, her doctor and her local hospital so that they are all aware of her wishes.