On June 2nd the National Ethics Committee published a position paper offering a compromise in the present debate. They recommended that the legislature should provide that living wills be binding on doctors and medical staff. This should apply not only when the patient was dying but at any stage in the illness. The Committee also called for clarification in the criminal law relating to the responsibilities of carers and authorised guardians.
The DGHS welcomed the priority given to the patient’s wishes over prolongation of life and generally welcomed the stance of the Ethics Committee.
However the earlier draft law on living wills (mentioned in 2nd newsletter) was withdrawn by the Ministry of Justice. The actual change in the care laws, which came in on 1 July, ignored much of the Ethics Committee recommendations and is seen by the DGHS as a missed opportunity to secure the legal status of living wills.
The new law is seen as strengthening patients’ rights, especially its sentence: “A carer cannot be imposed against the free wish of an adult”. The DGHS sees the latest laws as a patchwork, which leaves many areas in an undefined legal situation, e.g. rights/responsibilities of carers, proxies and the guardianship courts.
Source: Newsletter RtD-Europe, September 2005.