As of Tuesday 17th June, doctors must now consult patients by law before they place a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order on a patient’s medical notes.
The Court of Appeal ruling came after a landmark judgement that found doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge had acted unlawfully when failing to consult Janet Tracey and her family before placing a DNR order on her medical notes three years ago.
The ruling means that if the patient has the capacity, they should be involved with the DNR decision. But what if the patient lacks the capacity to be involved? How to the patient’s family or their doctors decide which course of action is best for the patient and in line with their wishes?
As we are living longer, this scenario is becoming more and more common. Thankfully, there are several options that allow a person to lay out their medical wishes before they become unable to express them.
A Living Will is a legally binding written statement that outlines a person’s desires regarding future medical treatment in circumstances in which they lack the capacity to articulate their own wishes.
By having a Living Will, you can make clear whether or not you wish to have a DNR order placed on your medical file, which will allow both doctors and members of your family to understand exactly what your wishes are if you are ever unable to express them.
It is important to note that, while you have capacity, your word overrides anything contained in your Living Will.
Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare
A Lasting Power of Attorney allows you to choose another person (an attorney) to act on your behalf and make decisions about your health and personal welfare when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Unlike a Power of Attorney for Property and Finance, this type of Power of Attorney can only make decisions on your behalf when you lack the capacity to do so.
Your attorney can make a range of decisions for you, from small day-to-day things, up to much more significant decisions, including where you live and, crucially in this case, medical treatment.
This means that you can instruct your attorney to act on your behalf when it comes to medical treatment – either trusting them to choose the option that they believe is in your best interests, or giving them definitive instructions about which treatment you wish to receive.
By having a Living Will or a Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare, you can give yourself and your relatives peace of mind that when it comes to making life-changing medical decisions, such as a DNR order, your wishes will be carried out even if you lose the ability to articulate them.