Survey: Wishes on final days care need to be spelled out

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Six in ten people would not want treatment to prolong their life if they were dying but only two per cent have made these wishes known in a legally binding Advance Decisions

A poll commissioned by Compassion in Dying found fewer than one in ten people want every effort to be made to prolong their life.

And half of those questioned wrongly believe that they have the legal right to make treatment decisions on behalf of loved ones who lose the ability to communicate their wishes.

The poll results highlight the need for people to be better informed about their legal rights at the end of life, so that the medical treatment wishes they express are respected.

Compassion in Dying, a national charity focused on end-of-life rights, has a new Information Line dedicated to informing people about their existing legal rights and supporting them in ensuring their end-of-life wishes are respected. The freephone number is 0800 999 2434.

Dr Richard Scheffer, a retired consultant in palliative medicine, said: “I think this poll result will come as a surprise to many people.

“There is an assumption that doctors must always do all we can to keep people alive. However, when someone is clearly dying, it is often in their best interests for medical staff to focus on using palliative treatments to ensure they are comfortable rather than to continue more aggressive life sustaining treatment.

“This poll shows that a majority of the public shares this view. Ultimately, what an individual wants at the end of life is of the utmost importance.

“People clearly have preferences about what treatment they do or don’t want once they know that they’re dying, but few people have made those preferences clear in Advance Decision documents.

“People often believe that decisions about their treatment can be made on their behalf by family or friends, while the reality is that in the absence of an Advance Decision or Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), these decisions are made by healthcare professionals.

“Doctors or nurses will consult family members, but ultimately it is the healthcare team who must decide what they believe to be in the best interests of the patient - and that may not always be the treatment the patient would have chosen.

“I am delighted to be able to support the formation of an information line on end-of-life rights. I believe the Information Line will be of enormous help and support to patients facing their own deaths and also to loved ones trying to ensure that those they care for most have the best treatment at the end of life, based on their own wishes.”

As well as the new End-of-Life Rights Information Line, Compassion in Dying also provides free Advance Decisions, guides to Rights at the End of Life for the general public, and toolkits for medical professionals on how Advance Decisions can be integrated into their patients’ care.