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3 Oct 2014
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A Living Will

When Bill retired, he and his wife, Sylvia, decided it was time they took control of the future...

A living will allows people to leave instructions about possible medical treatment and intervention in case there comes a time when they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. Prompted by the lingering and painful deaths of Sylvia's mother and Bill's father, Sylvia and Bill drew up their living wills in 1985, with the aid of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. They then got on with enjoying life, until 3 years ago when Syliva had to carry out Bill's wishes in accordance with the living will.

Bill contracted cancer. The operation was successful, and he started a course of chemotherapy. But whilst out in the street one day, Bill was knocked down and seriously brain damaged. Sylvia recalls, "The hospital didn’t expect him to survive the night, but he did, and the next night and the next night… they then realised that the brain stem was still active, which meant he could breathe and his heart was active, but his brain was dead. There was no consciousness at all."

At this point, Sylvia asked for the existence of Bill's living will to be put on his medical record. "The doctors did discuss it with me, but they did want to be sure of what they were doing. Everybody in the hospital was wonderful to us…"

Two months later, it was agreed between the family and medical staff that Bill’s request should be honoured. Two neurologists checked there was no brain activity, then the feeding tube and the tube administering fluid were withdrawn. Drugs for pain relief were continued. "They couldn’t have done this without a living will," says Sylvia "there are cases where people have to go to court before they had permission to stop feeding. But since we had the living will which indicated very clearly what my husband wanted, and the hospital were prepared to do it. He lived for ten days, quietly, and with dignity and he died very easily, between one breath and the next as it were…"

The family were convinced that the right decision had been made, "He was such a dignified man; he would have hated to be in the condition he was - helpless, incapable, incontinent - it would have broken his heart. I was so, so sure this was what he would have wanted. We were altogether in being with him until his own wishes had been achieved. We were all able to say goodbye - properly - the way he would have liked us to."

Have you had the experience of making a life or death decision on behalf a loved-one?
How did you cope?

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