In case you can't communicate at the end of life it is important that you prepare and have a plan. While you are able to talk about your health care wishes, the health care team will continue to talk to you about what is important and decisions you may need to make. Planning for the possibility that you may not always be able to talk, means that your wishes can still be heard and respected.
Advance care planning is about discussing or writing down your wishes while you can still say what you want and talk about what is important to you and your future health and personal care. A possible outcome of these discussions is a written Advance Care Plan. This will help your family and friends to make decisions about what to do for you when you no longer can.
Advance Care Planning in Five Easy Steps - Slideshow
We all need a plan factsheet (417kb pdf)
As things change what you would want might change. Let your family, friends or health professionals know if you do want to change your plan at any time.
If you wish you may choose to appoint a substitute decision-maker. This person is legally allowed to make decisions for you. Your substitute decision-maker will be asked to make decisions about the medical treatment you should receive. This should be based on what you have written or discussed with them. They should 'stand in your shoes' and make the decisions that you would make if you could speak. You do not have to choose a substitute decision-maker but it can make it easier for health professionals to talk with someone you have chosen.
Advance care directives tell the doctors about specific kinds of treatment that you would or would not want no matter how sick you are. It is a legal document and states how the doctors should manage your care.
In an advance care directive, the types of medical treatment that you could describe includes the use of antibiotics, fluids or life support. If you have an advance care plan or advance care directive your wishes are more likely to be taken into account when medical decisions are being made.
Visit the QUT End of Life Law in Australia website
Advance Care Directives
It is important to understand that you can’t be forced to complete these documents. You can tell others what you would want without having to write it down.
It is important for everyone to understand that these documents should only be used if you cannot say what you want.
Any written advance directive or advance care plan needs to be made available to people who need to know. This includes having a copy where it can be seen by ambulance personnel in case of an emergency. A copy should be given to your named substitute decision-makers. It is also a good idea to give a copy to anyone else who is involved. This could include your friends and family members and / or relevant health professionals.
Visit the Advance Care Planning Australia website for information in other languages
Advance Care Planning Australia
If you are from a different culture, it may be helpful to write down how you would like to be cared for at the end of life. Health professionals may not always know about your culture or what traditions you would prefer. It would be helpful if you could explain to them if this could become an issue with other family members, friends or others who might be involved in your care.
You do not need to seek professional advice when creating an advance care directive, however many people choose to do so. There are places that you can go to get help. This includes:
Each state and territory has different laws covering advance care directives. You can find out about relevant state or territory information via links below:
An Enduring Power of Attorney is usually a document about financial decision-making for a person who can’t make their own financial decisions. In some states / territories it may also include medical treatment decision-making. This document enables another person to look after your financial affairs and sometimes healthcare decisions if you can’t do it yourself. The person who is the Enduring Power of Attorney finishes their role at the time of death.
An Enduring Power of Guardianship is a healthcare and lifestyle document. It allows you to appoint your own guardian if you won’t be able to make healthcare or lifestyle decisions. You can only create this document when you understand the consequences of what you are telling others that you want. This is before you can no longer make your own decisions. This is because an Enduring Guardianship will allow other people to make many decisions for you if you were to lose your mental capacity. It may include where you will live (such as in a nursing home, if needed).
The enduring power of attorney or guardianship documents are important legal documents that allow others to decide on the kinds of medical treatment you will receive. They will also choose your place of care, and other activities that may need to take place when you are not able to make these decisions for yourself. This may sound a bit scary at first. Often when people begin the process of writing an advance care directive or advance care plan, they report feeling better that they have organised their affairs.
Visit the Advance Care Planning Australia website
Watch the BBC and Open University video: Should everyone have an end-of-life plan?
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Last updated 02 August 2021