Advance Directives, Living Wills

ICB banner imageAccording to media reports this morning (Irish Times | RTE), the Irish Council for Bioethics will today publish a report on the ethical and legal issues surrounding the structure, content and practicality of implementing advance directives or living wills. This is a very important development, much to be welcomed.

Advance directives or living wills are a statement of someone’s wishes and views regarding matters such as the forms of medical treatment to be administered or not, in circumstances where the person concerned is not in the future in a position to decide or communicate about such matters. They are prepared when the persons concerned are mentally capable to be used when they have lost the capacity to participate in the decision-making process.

The ICB’s call is a timely one. At present, in Irish law, the status of such advance directives or living wills is unclear (see Older People in Modern Ireland, pp 89, 130, 141, 151, 162). They are certainly one factor which decision-makers (such as a next-of-kin, medical personnel, and the courts) take into account, but there is in Ireland no equivalent of the UK’s Mental Capacity Act 2005, which from April 2007 will provide for the enforceability of advance directives. Such a development in Ireland would be an excellent complement to the pending Mental Capacity and Guardianship Bill, 2007, and may even find a ready and speedy home in an amendment to that Bill.