A living will is not the same as your last will and testament. The purpose of a living will is to guide your family and doctors in the event of you being unable to make your own medical decisions. This does not give anyone you mention in the living will a broad Power of Attorney, which is a common misconception.
People often compile a living will after being diagnosed with a life threatening disease e.g terminal cancer. Often a living will contains instructions about resuscitation in the event of heart failure, inability to breathe, or coma. Most living wills stipulate that the person does not want to be kept alive on life support systems and wishes to die naturally. The living will can also stipulate that no treatment for the terminal condition is provided, even if it could possibly prolong their life.
For a living will to be valid the following conditions have to be met:
- The patient (in this case you) must be over 18 years old when you issue the directive.
- You must be mentally capable of making these decisions in your living will at the time of writing it.
- You may only refuse consent to treatment if you have been fully informed about your condition and suggested treatment.
- The courts/doctors must be confident that you did not change your mind after issuing the living will.
According to the South African Medical Association, you have the right to refuse treatment. This however does not advocate the use of euthanasia in South Africa. It remains unlawful at this stage.