When someone suddenly loses mental capacity, the state automatically takes responsibility and makes decisions for them. A living will can ensure that your own ideas and concerns are taken seriously.
Fate often takes no prisoners: in the wake of an accident or serious illness, you might suddenly be left unable to look after yourself. With dementia, this situation tends to come about gradually. But without a living will, who decides what happens next? If you want to be sure that your wishes are taken into account and your loved ones are involved if these kinds of situations come to pass, you can plan ahead:
On the website of our partner, the Swiss Red Cross (SRC), you will find a free template for a living will form to download. Plus, the instructions for the living will form will help you get to grips with this topic and answer any questions you might have. The SRC also offers consultations, and a chat with your GP can also help you make your decision.
Should your doctors continue performing every medical treatment they can, even if the odds aren’t looking good? What happens to your organs after your death? Would you like to be resuscitated if you suffer a cardiac arrest? A living will gives your relatives and medical staff a sense of what you’d like to happen if you no longer have mental capacity. You can use your living will to set out which treatments, interventions and medical measures you consent to, depending on your state of health, and which you reject. You can also appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf in these situations.
The living will needs to be in writing, dated and signed. You are free to choose what it contains and what form it takes: you can draw up the living will in your own handwriting or digitally in Switzerland. You can also simply complete a living will template. It does not need to be witnessed.
In principle, a living will is valid for an unlimited period of time and can be amended or revoked at any time. You should regularly check that your living will still aligns with your wishes and amend it if necessary.
The original copy of your living will is best kept at home in an easily accessible location. Give a copy to someone you trust and a copy to the doctors treating you. Put a card in your wallet stating where the living will is and who should be contacted in an emergency. Take your living will with you when you go to hospital or on holiday. Plus, you can have the existence of a living will registered on your health insurance card. You can also store it with the SRC, which enables your living will to be easily accessed around the clock.
If you don’t have a living will, the law says the following people will make decisions, in this order:
Family members are only entitled to represent you if they are in regular contact with you. When a patient has no relatives, does not have contact with them, or if they can’t be found or don’t want to make decisions, the Child and Adult Protection Authority (CAPA) will appoint an advisor to make decisions on behalf of the individual.
No matter whether you’re young or old, it’s not easy to get to grips with questions on death and illness in such detail. It’s helpful to set out your values in writing so your relatives and medical professionals can justify their decisions: What is your motivation behind drawing up a living will? What is your attitude towards religion? What are your fears relating to health, illness and death? What does quality of life mean to you?
Katharina Bühlmann works at SRC Canton of Bern, and is in charge of living wills and powers of attorney. In her role, she answers questions relating to living wills and provides consultations. Katharina Bühlmann provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article.