Whilst the decision of the Court of Protection to allow PC Paul Briggs’ wife to withdraw life-sustaining treatment for her husband is, potentially, far reaching, as it is understandably heart wrenching, it does highlight something that so many of us overlook. This is the ability to determine in advance what we would like to happen to us if we found ourselves in a similar situation to that of Paul Briggs.
Self determination, legally, can be achieved in a couple of ways. First, there is what statute calls an Advance Medical Decisions (the NHS refers to this as an “advance decision to refuse treatment” what we used to call a Living Will). In this written document (sometimes also called an Advance Statement) you can stipulate what medical treatment you do not want to have including treatment that could potentially keep you alive. You cannot insist on treatment that you must have. So this can cover “do not resuscitate” circumstances. This is important if you are unable to give consent in the usual way at the time such a decision is needed.
Secondly, the other option is a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). An LPA is a document whereby you can appoint people of your choice to act as your Attorneys to look after your affairs in the future. There are two types of LPA, one for property and finances and the other for health and welfare issues. Whilst you can have your Attorneys help with your financial affairs whilst you can still make decisions for yourself, they come into their own when you cannot make decisions.
With an LPA for Health and Welfare you have to decide whether your Attorneys have the authority, or not, to make decisions about consenting or refusing consent to life-sustaining treatment on your behalf. An LPA for Health and Welfare can only be used if you cannot make such a decision yourself, for example if you were in a coma, as your doctor, to all intents and purposes, is talking to you when talking to your Attorneys about life-sustaining treatment. So if you found yourself in a position similar to Paul Briggs, your Attorneys could refuse consent to the treatment and going to court would not be necessary as the LPA is a legally binding document.
We all feel for the position that Mrs Briggs finds herself in, having to go to court to fight for the right to be allowed to uphold her husband’s wishes. This New Year, make making an LPA Health and Welfare one of your resolutions and give yourself and your loved ones peace of mind that they won’t have to go to court to get your wishes upheld.
Clinton Townsend is based in our Kidderminster office and can be contacted on 01562 512422 for all enquiries concerning Lasting Powers of Attorney and Advanced Medical Decisions.