Following national news stories this week surrounding do not resuscitate notices, a specialist care and capacity lawyer is calling for more education on advance decision statements to ensure wishes are followed, even if a person is not able to communicate this at the time.
Philip Martin-Summers, a lawyer at Higgs & Sons, says more education is needed so that tragic cases, like that of Janet Tracey who featured in the news this week, are not repeated.
“Nearly seven in 10 people die in hospital and 80% of those people die with so-called Do Not Resuscitate – DNR – notices in place,” explains Philip.
“The increasing use of DNR notices within the NHS was highlighted in the sad case surrounding the family of Janet Tracey who died at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge in March 2011. In this case the Court of Appeal stated that Mrs Tracey’s human rights were violated when an order not to attempt resuscitation was put on her medical records without her knowledge or her family being consulted.”
The Court of Appeal ruled that NHS trusts, regulatory bodies and healthcare professionals are now legally obliged to consult with patients if they wish to put a DNR notice in place. Where a patient no longer has the capacity to make decisions about their own treatment then the judgment also paves the way for greater consultation of patients and relatives.
Philip says that DNR notices are intended to ensure that a patient dies in a dignified and peaceful manner, but they have become increasingly controversial.
“Often people do not think of the consequences until the unthinkable happens. Not many people know that a legal mechanism already exists that enables a person to make a declaration about what forms of medical treatment they wish to receive or refuse in certain situations.
“Since the introduction of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 an Advance Decision – sometimes also known as a Living Will – is legally enforceable in England. It operates only when a person is physically or mentally incapable of giving or refusing consent to medical treatment.
“If you have the capacity to make your own decisions about your treatment then the new ruling means that you should be consulted on your treatment including about resuscitation.
“Creating an Advance Decision can bring you reassurance if you are worried about your future healthcare. When your doctor is faced with difficult decisions about what treatment or care to give, an Advance Decision will provide guidance and will help to ensure that your wishes are taken into account.
“Some people who do not wish to receive life-prolonging treatment when close to death and the creation of an Advance Decision would remove the burden of a difficult conversation between the medical staff and your family should the worst happen.”
Philip’s specialist team can guide clients through the Advance Decision process from beginning to end, helping with the drawing up of a legally binding document.
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