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Living Wills – ensuring everyone involved in decisions about your care knows your wishes

The importance of letting your family or close friends know you have made a living will, as well as having it recorded on your GP's digital and paper medical records, has been highlighted by the case of a woman who was kept alive for nearly two years against her wishes.

Brenda Grant, 81, never told her children she had made a living will, also known as an advance directive, even though she'd had one drawn up stating she feared degradation and indignity more than death after seeing her mother lose her independence because of dementia.

She said that if she were no longer of sound mind or had suffered from a list of medical ailments, she did not want treatment to prolong her life. It also confirmed she should not be given food but that distressing symptoms should be controlled by pain relief.

Hospital misplaced living will

But when she was admitted to George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, Warwickshire after suffering a severe stroke in October 2012, the hospital misplaced this crucial document inside the middle of a thick pile of medical notes.

As a result, Mrs Grant - who couldn't walk, talk or swallow by this point - was artificially fed for 22 months.

The mistake only came to light after Mrs Grant, who was discharged from hospital to a nursing home, was readmitted at which point her GP made the hospital and her family aware of her living will.

After appealing to the hospital to respect Mrs Grant's wishes, all treatment was stopped and she died on 4 August, 2014.

The Trust apologised for its failure and admitted liability and the family were awarded £45,000 in an out-of-court settlement. The Trust has now started recording the existence of living wills on the front page of a patient's medical notes.

"She never wanted to be a burden to anyone"

Mrs Grant's daughter, Tracy Barker, said she had sought legal advice because she didn't want other families to go through the same ordeal.

She said: "She (my mother) had a fear of being kept alive because she had a fear of going into a nursing home.

"She never wanted to be a burden to anyone, so she wouldn't have wanted any of us to look after her.

"I'm very, very angry with myself that I let my mum suffer for two years that she didn't need to suffer for."

Changes needed

The case has sparked calls for a national register or directory of living wills in a bid to make sure that doctors don't inadvertently treat someone against their wishes.

It also highlights the importance of letting people close to you, including any health and welfare attorney, know about the existence of a living will, as well as making sure your GP has a record of it on both your digital and paper records.

A living will, also known as an advance directive or advance decision, is legally binding and legal advice is recommended while discussing your wishes with a healthcare professional who knows your medical history. The outcome should then be shared with everyone involved in your care.

For more information about living wills please see our Wards Solicitors' Legal Guides:

Please contact Wards Solicitors Wills and Mental Capacity team for help and advice.

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