Living Will

What is a Living Will? 

Although the name is similar, a Living Will does not have anything to do with your Last Will and Testament. If you are unable to inform the doctors yourself, a Living Will. This document should  provides clear guidance for your doctors and family members of what your wishes are. In other words, a Living Will speaks for you when you cannot speak for yourself. There is no need to list every single treatment you will or will not consent to. Simply, you need to state that where your doctor knows you are dying and where medical machinery or procedures will not help you recover, you do not wish to be kept alive artificially.  You can also request your doctor to prioritise your comfort in these moments.

Everyone has the right to consent to medical treatment and the South African Medical Association recognises a Living Will as an expression of such consent unless there is evidence to the contrary. An important factor to consider is that a Living Will can help to reduce the emotional pain and suffering of your loved ones, who may be faced with having to make a life-or-death decision themselves if a Living Will is not in place. This can help avoid family members from feeling guilt or blaming each other for the death of a loved one. No one wants to make the decision to ‘pull the plug’ on a loved one’s life.

Furthermore, it should be noted that being kept alive by life-support, especially when there is no reasonable chance of recovery, is incredibly expensive. The medical costs can add up quickly and become a burden for those left behind. It might seem heartless to put a price on a life, but depending on individual circumstances, medical bills could be overwhelming for some families.

What a Living Will Can’t do

A Living Will cannot include directives or instructions for euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide. This is not legal in South Africa. You are entitled to request that specific treatments be withheld or withdrawn, but you cannot ask a doctor to end your life. 

A Living Will will also not preclude you being treated by your doctor where you can be treated and survive. 

Living Will vs DNR

A Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) is a document that instructs your doctor or any healthcare worker to not resuscitate you in the event of you becoming incapacitated or your heart stopping. This is not the same as a Living Will. If you have signed a Living Will and become incapacitated, the doctors will still assist you and try to help you make a full recovery. A Living Will would only come into effect if they felt that there was no reasonable chance of recovery.

Drafting a living will 

It is your responsibility to sign a Living Will if you wish to have one in place. An individual must have legal capacity to draft this document and it should be witnessed, like a Last Will and Testament, by two adult witnesses. It is further recommended that at least three original copies are signed, with one original handed to your physician and the other to your family. Should you have any particular concerns about your Living Will as it relates to medical condition, you can engage with your physician or specialist in this regard. 

Our offices can assist you in drafting a Living Will in line with your needs.

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