Living Wills

The term ‘living will’ is a term from the United States that has been adopted into everyday language, and typically refers to any kind of advance care planning document. The term ’living will’ is not in B.C.’s health care consent legislation, although it is generally accepted to mean a person’s wishes for future health care. Before September 1, 2011, living wills were commonly drafted in BC though there was not statutory provisions regarding their legal status.

A living will is not a will at all. It is a statement of wishes regarding medical treatment should there be no reasonable expectation that you will recover. While each living will is slightly different they generally provide that if a situation should arise in which there is no reasonable expectation of your recovery from extreme physical or mental disability and your death is otherwise imminent, you want to be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means or “heroic measures”. It usually also provides that in those circumstances, you want your care to be limited to support and comfort only and do not want any active resuscitation undertaken.

On September 1, 2011,the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility Admission (Act) was amended to provide for advance directives as a replacement for living wills. A living will done before September 1, 2011 is valid as an advance directive if it states:

    A health care provider may not provide to the adult any health care for which the adult refuses consent in the advance directive, and
    A person may not be chosen to make decisions on the adult’s behalf for any health care for which the adult has given or refused consent in the advance directive.

Most living wills drafted in BC do not meet these requirements. If you have a living will from before September 1, 2011, you should prepare a advance directive and/or a representation agreement to deal with your health care wishes.