Ally Thomson: It’s wise to set in advance your wishes for future care

Most of us prepare a will in the event of our death, but how many have a plan in place for a situation where we are no longer able to communicate decisions?
Most of us prepare a will in the event of our death, but how many have a plan in place for a situation where we are no longer able to communicate decisions?
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Just over a month into the New Year, countless resolutions will already have been made – and broken. To drink less, exercise more, learn a new skill. We all have a vision for the future and how we’d like our lives to play out.

What people don’t plan for, however, is the unexpected. We don’t want to consider the possibility that an illness or accident could get in the way and bring our plans for the future to a grinding halt.

But unfortunately the reality is that this could happen to anyone – an accident, a serious diagnosis or a head injury caused by a fall could suddenly leave someone without the ability to communicate or make decisions.

The recent case of PC Paul Briggs, left in a minimally-conscious state following a motorbike collision at the age of just 42, brought this into sharp focus. Paul’s wishes – that he would not have wanted to be kept alive in that state – were clear to his loved ones. Yet tragically his wife Lindsey was forced to fight in the courts in order to have Paul’s wishes respected and life-prolonging treatment withdrawn.

Lots of people believe there’s nothing they can do to prepare for such an event, and that they will have no say over what care and treatment they’ll receive. But there are things we can do now, and this is the focus of Make It Your 
Decision, launched today by Compassion in Dying.

Make It Your Decision aims to inform people that there are things they can put in place now to ensure that if tragedy does strike, they can still have control over their medical treatment and care and be at the centre of these decisions – for instance by completing an Advance Directive to Refuse Treatment. This allows people to dictate the treatment they would not want to receive if they were to lose capacity to make these choices in future.

You can also set out other things that are important to you relating to your future care in an Advance Statement, such as your religious beliefs, dietary requirements or where you’d like to be cared for. You can nominate a trusted person who can make decisions about your treatment or care should you be unable to. Paul’s wife Lindsay had assumed that as his wife of 15 years, she could speak for her husband, and was devastated to find out that was not the case.

Without a proper record of someone’s wishes, if someone loses mental capacity through illness or accident, it falls to doctors to make best interest decisions about a patient’s care and treatment. Person-centred care is now a firm priority for the Scottish Government and health and social care providers – this should not stop just because someone becomes unable to speak for themselves.

Planning ahead and expressing your wishes for future care and treatment helps to ensure that this doesn’t happen and puts you back in control of these crucial decisions.

Having your wishes for future care and treatment set out in advance means that if the worst does happen, you can have peace of mind that your wishes will be known and followed. Your family won’t be left stranded. It puts you back in control, even at a time when it might seem all control has been lost.

Ally Thomson is Director Scotland for Compassion in Dying and Dignity in Dying. Specialist information and support on all the ways you can plan ahead is available every step of the way from Compassion in Dying via the free Info Line (0800 999 2434) or online.