By Nico Strydom
People are often faced by a difficult situation when a decision involving a loved one has to be made in circumstances where they cannot make informed decisions or can give permission regarding medical treatment.
Perhaps a decision has to made about whether the person should be kept alive by means of life-supporting machines or whether the machines should be switched off. This can lead to lingering questions and feelings of guilt.
“To spare a loved one the emotional trauma you can have a living will drawn up and sign it properly,” says Juan Buys, fiduciary specialist at PPS Wealth Advisory. “It is a written instruction specifying a person’s wishes regarding future medical treatment. For instance, if a person is in a coma with no reasonable chances of recovery, a living will can state whether the person wants to be kept alive by means of life support.”
According to Buys a living will may not, however, contain instructions for euthanasia or suicide where a doctor assists a patient. “Disabilities due to illnesses such as dementia and mental health can also not be covered in a living will.”
Harry Joffe, head of legal services at Discovery Marketing, says it’s important for your loved ones to know when you are having a living will drawn up and where to find it. “You can ask your doctor or an attorney to hold it in safekeeping for you.”
A living will has no legal enforceability in South Africa. “Doctors and family do not have to comply with the wishes in a living will if there is the smallest chance of recovery,” says.
Buys also points out that in cases where there is a precedent directive, especially in a unique set of circumstances where the individual concerned can understand the consequences of their actions, wishes in a living will do not apply. “Doctors must comply with the required medical standards, as opposed to compliance with the provisions of a living will.”
Should you decide to draw up a living will, it is recommended that you consult a legal practitioner who has the necessary experience and knowledge to draw it up “Several things have to be taken into consideration when a living will is drawn up, including the required medical treatment. It can be difficult to think about drawing up such documents, while you are also focusing on the treatment of a life-changing or advanced disease. It can also be emotionally challenging for loved ones to hear your thoughts about the care you want to have at the end of your life.”