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What is an Advance Care Directive, and do you need one?

What is an Advance Care Directive, and do you need one?

Published on July 10, 2023 by Dianne RetiefDianne Retief

Life is filled with uncertainties, and planning for unforeseen circumstances, especially regarding your health and medical care, is essential. In New South Wales (NSW), an Advance Care Directive is a legal document that allows you to outline your preferences and instructions for medical treatment and end-of-life care. This article aims to provide an overview of an Advance Care Directive, its importance, and why you should consider preparing one.

What is an Advance Care Directive?

An Advance Care Directive is a legally binding document that enables individuals to express their wishes and decide about their future medical treatment and care. It guides healthcare professionals and loved ones when a person becomes incapable of making decisions due to illness, injury, or other incapacitating conditions. The document only takes effect if you cannot make your own decisions. This differs from an Enduring Guardian document, which allows individuals to appoint a person(s) as their attorney to make important personal decisions on their behalf if they lose the ability to make decisions (1). An Enduring Guardian document does not focus solely on medical treatment decisions but also encompasses various aspects of personal care such as decisions regarding accommodation/nursing homes, health and personal care matters.

Who can make an Advance Care Directive?

Anyone over the age of 18 years can make an Advance Care Directive if they are capable of understanding the directions they are creating and their effect.

Is it legally binding?

An Advance Care Directive is legally binding in NSW. Accepting or refusing recommended health care is your legal right as an adult. An Advance Care Directive ensures that if you cannot make those decisions, the person you have appointed can make them for you.

Why should I prepare an Advance Care Directive?

1. Personalised medical treatment

An Advance Care Directive empowers you to outline your values, beliefs, and preferences regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care. By clearly expressing your desires, you can ensure that medical decisions align with your wishes, even when you cannot communicate them directly.

2. Maintains your autonomy and dignity

Preparing an Advance Care Directive allows you to retain control over your healthcare decisions, even if you cannot communicate or make choices at a later stage. It ensures that personal autonomy and dignity are upheld, as decisions are made based on your own expressed preferences.

3. Reduces any potential family conflict

Family members may have varying opinions on the appropriate course of action when faced with difficult medical decisions. An Advance Care Directive can help alleviate potential conflicts by providing clarity and guidance. It eases the burden on your loved ones, who may otherwise have to make decisions during emotional distress.

4. Minimises unwanted treatment

You may hold strong wishes about the specific medical interventions or treatments that you do not wish to receive. By clearly stating these preferences in an Advance Care Directive, you can prevent unwanted or unnecessary medical procedures and ensure that your treatment aligns with your values and beliefs.

5. Helps decision-making for your treating doctors

An Advance Care Directive is a valuable tool for your treating doctors, ensuring that they are aware of your wishes and can provide treatment accordingly. It saves time and allows your doctors to focus on delivering the most appropriate care rather than making assumptions or seeking consent from family members during critical moments.

6. Peace of mind for your loved ones

By preparing an Advance Care Directive, you reassure your loved ones that your wishes will be respected. It relieves your family members of the emotional burden of making what can be difficult decisions.

Can an Advance Care Directive be revoked or changed?

Yes, your Advance Care Directive can be changed or revoked at any time while you are mentally capable of doing so. It is wise to review and update your Advance Care Directive every few years, particularly if you have a change in your health or circumstances.

Who should I discuss my Advance Care Directive with?

It would help if you discussed your Advance Care Directive with your doctor, family, and even your close friends. There is a benefit to discussing your Advance Care Directive with your doctor while you are considering it.

Preparing an Advance Care Directive is a proactive and responsible step toward ensuring that your healthcare preferences and end of life wishes are respected. It provides peace of mind for both you and your loved ones, offering a sense of control and dignity. You can contact us at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers on 1800 059 278 or via our Contact Page if you need help preparing an Advance Care Directive and one of our lawyers will assist you.

(1) What is the difference between an advance care directive and enduring guardianship?

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