Advanced Healthcare Directive
An Advance Healthcare Directive is a written statement about the medical or surgical treatment you want in the future if you are able to make that decision at the relevant time. For example, you may not want to be resuscitated if your heart stops beating, or you may not want to be kept alive with the use of a ventilator. The person who will make these decisions on your behalf is referred to as your Designated Healthcare Representative. Until now, Advance Healthcare Directives or Living Wills were recognised under common law and were recognised as legal by the courts, but there was no legislation in this area.
The government has enacted a new law to govern Advance Healthcare Directives. It is included in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 which was passed by the Oireachtas in December 2015. An Advance Healthcare Directive is now a legal document but you do not need a lawyer or a solicitor to make one. You do however have to sign your directive in the presence of 2 witnesses. It lets your family, carers and health professionals know your wishes about your medical and surgical treatment if you are unable to make or communicate those decisions yourself. You may want to refuse treatment in some situations, but not others. If this is the case, you need to be clear about all the circumstances in which you want to refuse this treatment. You should update your directive if you change your mind and you can also revoke (cancel) a directive at any time, either verbally or in writing.
Anybody over the age of 18 can be a designated healthcare representative. The person must be willing to act on the person’s behalf, based on their wishes as set out in their advance healthcare directive. You are not allowed to be a designated healthcare representative if you:
- have been convicted of an offence against the person.
- are the owner or a registered provider of a designated centre or mental health facility where the person lives (unless you are a relative of the person)
- provide paid personal care or healthcare services to the person (unless you are a relative or their primary carer).
The designated healthcare representative has as much authority as you decide to give them, up to and including the power to consent to refuse life-sustaining treatment on your behalf. For more information click here.
To help you set up an AHD you can download or order 'Think Ahead Planning Pack' from the Irish Hospice Foundation's website.
An AHD is not euthanasia or assisted suicide as these acts are currently illegal in Ireland but it is being investigated by the Oireachtais. For readers wishing to read more information on this topic click here and here.