Doctors welcome 'will' covering terminal illness

DOCTORS and legal experts yesterday welcomed the launch of the first, formal 'living will', in which people can state whether or not they want to prolong their lives with medical treatment, in the event of an incurable illness.

The document has been designed for people with HIV and Aids, but can be used by anyone who is worried about the treatment they might receive towards the end of their life. Solicitors said they expected that the document would be legally binding.

Similar documents, or advance directives, have been drawn up informally in consultation with doctors or solicitors in the past. The Living Will compiled by the Terence Higgins Trust and the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King's College, London, is the 'most fully researched and complete document of its kind and took two years to develop', according to Martyn Taylor, chairman of the trust.

The document addresses three possible health conditions: the terminal stages of an incurable physical illness, permanent mental impairment and incurable physical illness, and permanent unconsciousness.

People can say that they wish to be kept alive for as long as possible, or that they do not wish to be kept alive and want treatment for pain relief only.

The document allows the patient to appoint a health care proxy to take part in decisions about medical treatment. The patient can also state that he or she should be kept alive to enable a named person to see them before they die. Mr Taylor, who has Aids, said that the document would 'help to preserve dignity and confidence at a time when dignity and confidence was threatened'.

Living wills are common in America. There is no law in the UK dealing specifically with such documents. However, Andrew Grubb, of King's College, said that the Court of Appeal had recently 'strongly indicated that a properly prepared living will' would be binding on doctors. This follows a High Court ruling in the case of a woman who refused a life-saving blood transfusion while under the influence of her mother, a Jehovah's Witness.

The Living Will form; The Terrence Higgins Trust, 52-54 Grays Inn road, London WC1X 8JU. Also available from other Aids organisations and hospitals.