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Advance Directives Revisited

The law relating to Advance Directives could be reviewed after a young woman used one to commit suicide. T h e H e a l t h Secretary has suggested the legislation relating to ‘living wills’ could be reassessed in light of the 26 year old who drew up a declaration to prevent doctors from intervening to save her life. The woman who suffered from depression drank poison for the ninth time in a year then calmly phoned an ambulance to take her to the hospital handing the staff an advance directive stating that she did not want any intervention but to be made comfortable to die in peace . Her previous attempts to commit suicide had been unsuccessful after doctors flushed the poison from her system. Provisions in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 allows terminally ill patients to decline treatment which could prolong their life. Doctors took legal advice and were told that intervention could amount to assault because the woman understood what she was doing and was mentally capable of refusing treatment. They said her wishes were abundantly clear and although it was a horrible thing there had been no alternative but to let her die. The directive, which was drawn up in September 2007 stated that she was 100% aware of the consequences and that she did not want to be treated. An inquest heard that she made her wishes clear verbally at the hospital and the letter she handed doctors stated that if she called for an ambulance it was not a request for treatment but simply because she did not want to die alone and in pain. This case takes the law into ’new territory’ according to the Health Secretary and could be contrary to the intentions of Parliament when they wrote t h e l e g i s l a t i o n . The case has revived the right to die debate days after new guidelines on assisted suicide were published, saying those who help terminally ill patients to die are unlikely to face prosecution unless they stand to gain financially. Medical professionals have called fro more clarity and to have the legislation strengthened. A spokesman for the Bishop’s Conference suggested that where an advance decision is clearly manifestly suicidal…that it cannot be valid and applicable and that if such an advance decision is invoked medical treatment should always be given where it is in the best interests of the patient

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