An Advanced Healthcare Directive is a formal document which sets out a person’s wishes for their healthcare treatment if, there comes a time, when they are unable to express their wishes themselves.
It may set out certain kinds of treatment that a person most definitely would not like to receive if they become unwell. Examples might be resuscitation, artificial feeding, amputation, life support systems or brain surgery.
The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act, 2015 provides for formal recognition of Advanced Healthcare Directives. It directs that any refusal of treatment in an Advanced Healthcare Directive shall be put into effect if the patient is not in a position to make the decision themselves at the time and if the Advanced Healthcare Directive is very clear.
Up to now, doctors would give consideration to an Advanced Healthcare Directive but were not bound by it. The new law has not yet been given effect and this will continue to be the case until it comes into force.
If an Advanced Healthcare Directive requests that certain treatment be given in certain circumstances (rather than certain treatment not be given), it is not legally binding but medical staff must set out in writing why they didn’t follow the directions.
An Advanced Healthcare Directive must be in writing and be witnessed by two people, one of whom cannot be an immediate family member.
Some people will be satisfied to state their wishes about healthcare to family members who will be consulted by doctors if the person themselves cannot give instructions. Others will want the certainty of an Advanced Healthcare Directive.