HM Insights

Living Wills attract attention as Supreme Court rules legal permission no longer required to withdraw life support

The Supreme Court has ruled that legal permission will no longer be required to withdraw treatment from patients in a permanent vegetative state. The ruling will undoubtedly make it easier for doctors to withdraw food and liquid and could affect thousands of people every year who are kept alive by medical intervention.

Doctors had previously been able to withdraw certain treatments, provided it was in the best interests of the patient and the relatives were in agreement. However, until now, doctors have had to seek legal permission to withdraw food and water. The ruling, which may of course divide opinion, is the result of a recent case in which a man in his 50s suffered a heart attack resulting in severe brain damage.


To help ensure your wishes are met it can be very persuasive for families and medical professionals to have sight of a "Living Will". In the case heard by the Supreme Court, the man had not left a Living Will or any instructions on what should happen to him in these circumstances.

Living Wills / Advance Medical Directives

Living Wills (also known as Advance Medical Directives) allow you to set out in a document whether or not you want to refuse specific treatments in the future. Living Wills are not legally binding in Scotland but can be very persuasive. They can be used as a guide to family members and medical professionals who need to make decisions about your care. It is recommended that the Living Will is sent to your GP so it is available when needed. You may also wish to pass a copy to your loved ones.

Given that the circumstances can often be a very emotional and it is a stressful time for families, having your wishes outlined can lift some of the burden they could face. It is likely that where a person's wishes have not been set out, and there is a dispute within a family, legal permission will still need to be sought before withdrawing treatment.

Get in touch

Preparing a Living Will is a straightforward exercise and allows you to communicate how you wish to be treated if you are no longer able to. If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch with a member of our Private Client team or your usual Harper Macleod contact.