Advance care directives are a legal arrangement for end-of-life care


Advance care planning lets you make decisions now about the health care you would like to receive if you become too ill to do so in the future. It allows you to register your preferences for the treatment and outcomes you want. It ensures that your loved ones and healthcare providers are aware of your preferences. This can result in a plan called an advance care directive and the appointment of a representative to ensure your wishes are respected.

Why is advance care planning important?

Advance care planning helps to ensure you get the care you want. It can relieve your family and loved ones of significant stress and burden. It can reduce the incidence of unnecessary and even unwanted treatment. If you haven’t gone through the process of advance care planning and you become seriously ill, doctors will be left to make treatment decisions based on their own assessment of your needs. It’s clearly best to start advance care planning when you’re healthy and can make clear, rational decisions.

The process of advance care planning.

Advance care planning should involve conversations with both family and friends and healthcare professionals. These conversations will help you start to realise what is important to you in this regard. It needn’t be a complicated process but it should involve careful consideration of your preferences for care and desired outcomes. These matters should be discussed in detail with those mentioned above and should result in the appointment of a representative to make decisions for you and to document your wishes in detail.

Advance care directives and advance care plans are explained.

These two terms relate to two distinctly different things. An advance care directive is the documentation of your preferences for your future healthcare. This documentation may contain your values and life goals and instructions about healthcare and your preferred outcomes. It also gives you the opportunity to nominate a substitute decision-maker to represent your interests. Advance care directives constitute legally binding documents. An advance care plan is quite different in that it is created by a third party on behalf of a person who has diminished capacity, or no capacity to make rational decisions about their own healthcare themselves. However, in relation to future healthcare decisions, an advance care plan is similar to an advance care directive. It may be helpful in providing information for your representative and healthcare practitioners, and may thus help to guide the healthcare decisions they make on your behalf, but it is not a legally binding document.

Is advance care planning the same as voluntary assisted dying?

There are some significant differences between voluntary assisted dying and advance care planning. Advance care planning allows you to discuss, express preferences, and ultimately choose your own future healthcare and medical treatment. It allows you to make decisions about your medical treatment and includes future consent to, and even refusal or withdrawal of, treatment, and the nomination of a personal representative. All Australian adults can undertake advance care planning and those with decision-making capacity can document an advance care directive.

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