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Living Wills and religion – which comes first?

An interesting study was carried out recently by the Journal of Medical Ethics, which asked doctors from all sectors of medicine, if their religious beliefs would interfere with a patient’s wishes to refuse treatment.

Of the 4000 British doctors questioned, those who held strong religious beliefs indicated that they were more likely to oppose giving medical assistance which would ensure a swifter demise or eventual euthanasia.

Doctors who held little or no belief in religion, were much more likely to discuss treatment and pain control towards the point of death with a patient, which could involve strong pain relieving drugs or even sedation.

Living Wills, also known as active declarations, are documents created when the individual is of sound mind.  They detail the wishes of that person regarding issues of healthcare towards the end of their life or when seriously ill, in the circumstances in which they become no longer able to communicate them directly.

A Living Will cannot legally instruct a doctor to carry out euthanasia, but it can instruct them to limit the amount of healthcare given, should the patient suffer severe injuries or become terminally ill.  This would of course bring a swifter death than that which would occur if treatment was continued.

Regardless of the doctor’s own personal religious beliefs, a Living Will must be followed to the letter.  This even includes non-treatment of a patient, even if the doctor believes they can be saved.

If a doctor ignores the wishes laid out in a Living Will, they run the risk of being prosecuted for assault and can even receive a jail sentence, which will inevitably signal the end of their career.

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