Following the first enactment of living will legislation in California in 1976 the majority of the states of the USA have now passed similar laws. However, flaws have been identified in the way they work in practice and many states are considering reviewing their legislation. In Britain there is no legislation but the subject is currently commanding considerable interest. This paper assesses the future prospects for living wills in both the USA and Britain, analysing the different options available and comparing the two countries. If patients who become permanently incompetent are to have their previous autonomous decision-making respected, there is general agreement that advance directives for health care must be introduced. The difficulty is in deciding how to implement them, and especially whether this should be by statutory or non-statutory means, the traditions in the two countries being very different in this respect. It is concluded that whichever route is taken, promoting respect for patient autonomy is as much a matter for education and persuasion of doctors as of the adoption of particular instruments. Doctors should therefore be trained in what constitutes good medical practice in this area and, to ensure that it can be carried out properly, the general level of medical facilities for these patients must also be protected and promoted.
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