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Europe seeks consensus over 'living wills'
Date:10/31/2008

The question whether a common European position on advance directives, or "living wills" is ethically required and practically feasible was discussed at a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF). Just as a conventional will allows people to specify how they would like their property to be distributed after their death, so a living will is supposed to determine what medical treatment people would like to receive in the event of illness when they are still alive but of unfit mind to decide at the time. This is an extension of the basic human right across all of Europe that people can consent to or refuse medical treatment at any time.

Not all European countries yet have national legislation covering advance directives, with some such as Germany and Switzerland currently conducting heated debates over the subject. Even in countries that do have such legislation, advance directives are open to very different interpretations and their application differs widely across Europe. This is the case not just for the highly topical matters of euthanasia and assisted suicide, but also for administration of emergency treatments such as artificial ventilation and intravenous hydration (drips). The ESF workshop reflected this divergence, with disagreement even over the degree of consensus that could be achieved, according to the workshop's convenor Susanne Brauer and co-convenors Roberto Andorno and Nikola Biller-Andorno, from the Institute of Biomedical Ethics at University of Zurich in Switzerland.

According to Brauer, one group at the workshop felt there was a need for a more substantial pan-European agreement on the ethical, legal and political basis of advance directives. This group was concerned that the current consensus was too vague and open to widely varying interpretation. This consensus is based on article nine of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, established in Oviedo, Spain in 1997, stating that "the pre
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Contact: Susanne Brauer
brauer@ethik.uzh.ch
41-446-348-380
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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