[The Living Will and Values History Project]

Living wills:
Recommended documents

Of the many documents extant in Britain, there are only two that we strongly recommend:

Living Will. The document of the Living Will & Values History Project. 4pp. Primarily for use in Britain, but suitable for many other countries. Available as part of the Living Will Pack from VESS, 17 Hart Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RN, United Kingdom, or downloadable as a free Adobe Acrobat document.

Living Will. The document of the Terrence Higgins Trust. Primarily designed for use by people with HIV or AIDS, adaptable for anyone else. Available from THT, 52-54 Gray's Inn Rd, London WC1X 8JU, United Kingdom.

We also recommend a different type of document, known as a values history:

This is suitable for use anywhere in the world. It is available as part of the Living Will Pack from VESS, or downloadable with instructions here.

Is it binding?

Requirements The living will can be written or oral. It must not have been made under pressure or coercion. The person must have been competent at that time to make the decisions involved (This is presumed unless there is evidence to the contrary). Note: a person may have a mental illness and still make a valid living will as long as they undertood the implications of what they were doing. Competency means competent to make the decision in question, not necessarily competent to make other decisions (eg, relating to financial affairs). If the living will applies exactly to the circumstances that subsequently arise, it must be followed by health care professionals. If it does not apply exactly, but describes a general wish, then the health care team should consider it among other evidence of what the patient would wish. Relatives may also be able to supply information on the patient's wishes. Having gathered all the information, a health care decision should be made on the basis of the patient's best interests with due regard to their wishes, as well as these can be ascertained.

Notes: A living will can be revoked at any time. It is evidence of the patient's wish, and it is the patient's wish that has legal force, not the document. Living wills cannot request euthanasia or unreasonable treatment. Contrary to popular belief, relatives are not legally empowered to make treatment decisions on behalf of another adult. Responsibility rests with the health care team or the courts.

Documents outside of the United Kingdom


The status of living wills is governed by specific legislation in most states. Although generally you may use one of the above forms, state by state advice is strongly recommended. This can be obtained from Choice In Dying.

The use of a values history is also strongly recommended.

Documents enabling you to authorise someone else to make decisions for you (known often as Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care) are common in America. There is often a prescribed form. If you use one of these, we advise you to also employ a values history to help your proxy understand your wishes more fully. The values history section of the Project's document may also be useful to explain to your proxy how you would feel about specific medical scenarios.


Local advice is particularly advisable.

Copyright 1996 Chris Docker, Director, Living Will and Values History Project.

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