Reader question: Are ‘living wills’ allowed in France, where you specify your wishes before a major operation, for example, as to what should be done if something goes wrong?
A traditional will sees you choose who you want to inherit your property or belongings, whereas a so-called living will allows you to outline your preferences about future healthcare treatments at the end of life.
They do indeed exist in France and are known as directives anticipées in French.
A law has been in place for living wills since 2016 with regard to this.
Before a major operation, for example, you can write a living will to clarify end-of-life wishes, in the event it is not a success. However it is not essential to be ill or elderly to write a living will.
The aim is to clarify your end-of-life wishes should you not be able to do so because you are in a coma, are suffering serious mental impairment, have been a victim of a serious accident, or, generally due to advanced age or serious illness.
These usually surround decisions about whether to stop or continue treatments – including being kept alive artificially, for example with a feeding tube or ventilator – in case of terminal illness.
You can include wording to the effect that if you are terminally ill you would accept to be deeply sedated to avoid suffering even if this may mean you die sooner.
These living wills are legally binding documents that, with some small exceptions, doctors must follow.
In the absence of this, family or friends will be consulted, especially anyone you have designated your personne de confiance. This is a person you name to help if you are ill.
How do I write one?
Any mentally healthy adult can write a living will in France.
It can be typed, or handwritten, and needs to be dated and signed before becoming valid.
The government provides two templates – one for those currently living with a serious illness, and one for those currently well.
You can find on this pdf document – it can be copied, downloaded and edited, or printed out, allowing you to write it.
Some healthcare facilities such as hospitals will also have a form ready you can use.
Living wills are always consulted by doctors during a case. However, there are two circumstances where they may be ignored:
- During life-threatening emergencies, a living will is not consulted until a full assessment of the health situation has been made. For example, immediate medical treatment will be given to you by first responders before consulting your living will.
- If the information in the living will is “inappropriate or not in accordance with the medical situation”, in which case the leading doctor will consult with other doctors and the personne de confiance about following steps to make.
The wills have an unlimited duration – once written, they will apply until your death.
You can modify or update them at any time, however, by rewriting your form, or making a new version of the government pdf above.
You should mention that you have written them if going into hospital for a major operation, and give them a copy that can be kept in your file. You can also add them to your Mon espace santé online medical records if you have this, or give a copy to your GP and your personne de confiance.
If multiple living wills have been made or saved to your medical records, only the most recent will be consulted.
What if I am too sick to write one?
If you cannot write the living will yourself, it is possible for two witnesses – one of which must be your personne de confiance – to write it for you.
To do this, they will have to provide information about themselves (name, relation to you, etc) alongside the living will.
If a person is under guardianship, they can still create a living will, but will need to request the ability to do so from a judge beforehand.