Latimer Hinks, a leading North East law firm, is urging people to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) so their wishes are clearly understood by both relatives and doctors.
It follows a recent UK Supreme Court ruling which gives the right to families – with the agreement of doctors – to withdraw life support for those in a persistent vegetative state without having to first seek a judge’s approval.
Natalie Palmer, a Solicitor and Director of Latimer Hinks, welcomed the decision – which no longer requires a court to agree the cessation of artificial feeding and hydration if it is in the patient’s best interests.
“Having to go to court only brought extra anguish to families at an already difficult time, so I welcome this change in the law,” she explains. “It still requires doctors and families to agree the course of action which is a strong safeguard.”
She added that a Health and Welfare LPA would further clarify matters for relatives and make it easier for them to carry out a person’s wishes.
A Health and Welfare LPA allows attorneys to make decisions over a person’s care. This can include instructions regarding either refusing or agreeing to treatment in circumstances where the person lacks capacity to make such decisions for themselves.
Natalie continues: “If people make a Health and Welfare LPA then it allows loved ones to stand in the shoes of the person and make the decision they think they would have made themselves.
“When making Health and Welfare LPAs we encourage conversations between the person making the LPA and their attorneys to discuss in what circumstances a person would or would not want the withdrawal of life sustaining treatment”
The Supreme Court ruling could affect many thousands of people in the UK kept alive with no quality of life by medical interventions. It has become a growing issue due to advances in medical procedures and treatments which allow people to survive illnesses and conditions which would have been incurable decades ago.
The appeal ruling followed the case of a man in his 50s who suffered a heart attack and brain damage and never recovered consciousness. His family and the doctors agreed it was in his best interests to be allowed to die. The hearing was brought to test the previous principle that every case concerning the withdrawal of life support should go before a court.
A recent report by Solicitors for the Elderly, which polled 1,977 adults across the UK, found almost 99 per cent of people in the North East had not made the necessary provisions should they lose capacity. A further 41 per cent admitted to having made no provisions at all for later life, including making a will, pension, funeral plan or LPA.
Natalie said: It’s difficult to have conversations with loved ones about what would happen if they are put in the position of making end of life decisions. By having conversations and setting wishes down in writing (including making a Health and Welfare LPA) it can give you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out.”