Think ahead, plan ahead - a personal view by Usha Grieve
Usha Grieve, Director of Partnerships and Information at Compassion in Dying
In the summer of 2015, PC Paul Briggs was tragically knocked off his motorbike on his way to work, causing catastrophic injuries which left him in a minimally-conscious state. Over time it became clear that Paul would not recover, and his family were certain he would not have wanted to be kept alive in this condition.
However, Paul had never put these wishes in writing. In the midst of her grief, his wife Lindsey was forced to take on a lengthy court battle in order to have his wishes respected and life-prolonging treatment withdrawn. It was a traumatic experience that further added to the tragedy of Paul’s accident – one that could have been avoided if his wishes had been recorded in advance.
Lindsey is now a vocal advocate of making an Advance Decision – a document that allows you to plan ahead and ensure your future treatment wishes are known. “We all knew what Paul’s wishes would have been but we were powerless to do anything about it,” says Lindsey.
“You assume as someone’s wife of 15 years that you’ll be able to speak for your husband, but that’s not the case. It’s shocking to find that you can’t. I just hope our tragedy can have some positive impact – to show people how important it is to record your wishes when you’re fit and well, as accidents can happen to anyone.”
Thinking about your future can sometimes seem daunting, but it is the only way to ensure you get care that’s right for you, if you later become unable to make decisions for yourself. People often assume that they can tell a loved one their final wishes and that’s enough. But family and friends have no legal right to make decisions on your behalf, even if they are certain of your wishes. If you have not planned ahead then these decisions fall instead to doctors who may not know you, or your values or beliefs.
There are three types of plan that you might want to think about, they are not mutually exclusive and each has a somewhat different role:
- To refuse specified treatments in advance make an Advance Decision.
- To tell people what is most important to you in your life, including your religious beliefs, daily routine, diet and feelings about treatment and care, make an Advance Statement.
- If you want to give someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf, appoint them through a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare.
Compassion in Dying can help you with any of these. Remember Lyndsey’s experience, think about what ‘quality of life’ means to you, and start the discussion with those around you.