During severe illness, you may be unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate your wishes – at the very time when many critical decisions need to be made.  You have the ability to help your family make critical decisions about the medical treatment you receive – and ease the emotional trauma encountered when making life and death decisions. Help your family make critical health decisions.

Think about this situation

Some years ago, a friend told me he had just been through a very emotionally draining experience.  His father was gravely ill, and no longer able to make decisions for himself regarding his health care.  My friend was the person who had to make these decisions – there were no other options – it rested on his shoulders.

The doctors provided options for the ongoing treatment of his father – none of which offered any hope.  It was only a matter of how his father’s health was to be managed over his final weeks, or perhaps days.  The issue, in simple terms, is whether everything is to be done to keep his father alive, even when there is no prospect of recovery and no quality of life; or whether the father’s condition will be managed to ensure minimal pain is experienced until he passes away naturally.

These are of course decisions faced by Australians each and every day.  When I spoke with my friend, his father had passed, the funeral had been held, and my friend was left contemplating his decisions – had he done the right thing, should he have continued the fight for his father.

Whilst it’s easy to re-assure someone that the right decision was made, it is understandable that doubts remained.  Losing a close family member is one of the most unwanted experiences, but having to make life-and-death decisions adds an extra dimension to the emotional trauma.

Is there a better way?

I recently met with a married couple in their sixties to discuss their Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney.  The wife had previously been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, however the disease was still at an early stage and she had recently been issued with another 12 month Driver License.

I enquired whether they had considered preparing an Advance Health Directive.  Their response was: “What’s that ?”.  I was a little surprised that although they were dealing with a significant health challenge, they were not aware that they could prepare a document providing guidance as to their future health treatment.

The response of these clients, and the earlier experience of my friend, prompted me to provide some information about how someone with significant health challenges can take action to assist their family members and medical advisors when difficult decisions have to be made.

Advance Health Directive

An Advance Health Directive is a document that states your wishes or directions regarding your future health care for various medical conditions.  It comes into effect only if you are unable to make your own decisions.  You may wish your directive to apply at any time when you are unable to decide for yourself, or you may want it to apply only if you are terminally ill.

Who can make an Advance Health Directive?

Anyone over eighteen years of age who is capable of understanding the nature of their directions, and foreseeing the effects of those directions, can generally make an Advance Health Directive.

What to consider before making an Advance Health Directive?

You should think clearly about what you would want your medical treatment to achieve if you become ill.  For example:

  • If treatment could prolong your life, what level of quality of life would be acceptable to you?
  • How important is it to you to be able to communicate with family and friends?
  • How will you know what technology is available for use in certain conditions?

You need to discuss this form with your doctor before completing it.  A doctor is required to complete a section of the form.

The purpose of an Advance Health Directive is to give you confidence that your wishes regarding health care will be carried out if you cannot speak for yourself.  However, a request for euthanasia would not be followed, as it is a criminal offence in Queensland to accelerate the death of a person or to assist another person to commit suicide.

Preparing an Advance Health Directive Takes Time

Where you decide to prepare an Advance Health Directive, you will discover that the document is extensive and takes time to prepare.

You will need to consult with your medical advisers, your key family members, and perhaps your legal advisers.  You will need to prepare a draft document and consider your answers to the confronting questions.  When a final draft is completed, you will need to meet with a qualified witness and sign the document in their presence.  The witness may need to obtain written medical evidence that you have the mental capacity to make the decisions contained in the document.

In our next article, we will provide additional information about the mechanics of preparing an Advance Health Directive.

Disclaimer: The above is to be considered as general education. This is not advice and it is not to be acted upon without advice from a qualified professional who understands your personal circumstances.

Copyright © 2017 Wockner Lawyers. All Rights Reserved. Contact Wockner Lawyers – [email protected]. This article may not be used without the prior written consent from the author. See below for more details…
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