Discussions about end-of-life and medical treatment preferences can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, it is crucial to have these conversations while you still have capacity to make decisions, as it ensures that your wishes are respected, and it reduces the stress and emotional burden on family members who may be left to make decisions on your behalf.
Importantly, having these discussions does not mean that death is imminent, instead it is a responsible and proactive approach to ensure your healthcare wishes are known and respected. By having these conversations and creating an advanced health directive as part of your advanced care planning, you can have peace of mind that you will receive the medical treatment you want if you are unable to communicate your wishes.
What is advanced care planning?
The WA Department of Health describes advance care planning as “a voluntary process that allows people to explore what they value most in life, to guide their current and future health and personal care”.
Everyone should think about advanced care planning regardless of your age or health, but it can be a particularly important to people with a terminal illness, life-limiting illness, at risk of losing competence or over the age of 75.
The completion of an advanced health directive (“AHD”) is one document that a person can complete as part of their advanced care plan. It should be reviewed often or whenever there is a significant change in a person’s health status to make sure it remains up to date and reflects their current healthcare wishes.
What is an advanced health directive?
An AHD is a voluntary legal document that allows individuals in Western Australia to express their wishes regarding current and future health and personal care and treatment if they become unable to make their own decisions.
In Western Australia, an AHD is also known as a “Living Will”, “Advanced Care Directive” or the “My Life, My Choices” document.
When a person makes an AHD, provided it has been correctly signed and witnessed, it becomes a legally binding document in Western Australia. This means healthcare professionals are obligated to follow the instructions in the AHD to the extent that they are relevant and applicable to the individual’s current medical condition. An AHD can be revoked or updated at any time while a person still has capacity.
Importantly, an AHD is only effective when a person does not have capacity and/or is unable to communicate their wishes prior to any treatment with specific instructions noted in the AHD. At that point, the person’s substitute decision-maker must follow the instructions outlined in the document.
What are the benefits of having an advanced health directive?
Considering the questions raised in an AHD can be difficult, but it is a crucial step in taking control of your healthcare decisions. End-of-life care, resuscitation preferences, and medical treatment options are tough topics, but facing them head-on can ease the burden on loved ones, ensure your wishes are respected and helps to prevent misunderstandings and disagreements between healthcare providers and patients or their families.
An AHD is a great tool for starting these difficult discussions to ensure your healthcare professionals and loved ones are on the same page to ensure your wishes are respected.
What can and cannot be included?
An AHD can include a range of instructions regarding medical treatment, depending on a person’s preferences and circumstances including:
- End-of-life care.
- Specific medical treatment preferences such as pain management.
- Life-sustaining treatment options.
- Decisions about other treatment options such as blood transfusions.
- Receive specific medication or treatments in all circumstances or only in specific circumstances.
- Taking part in medical research.
An AHD cannot include:
- Consent to voluntary assisted dying
- Permission for organ and tissue donation
- Appoint an enduring guardian
- Appoint an enduring attorney
Who can make an advanced health directive in Western Australia?
Any person with full legal capacity who is at least 18 years of age.
How can Lynn & Brown Lawyers help me?
At Lynn & Brown Lawyers we have a dedicated team of Wills and Estate Planning lawyers who can help you prepare an advanced health directive as part of your advanced care planning.
We can help with the following:
- Ensure the document meets all legal requirements;
- Comprehensive advice and guidance;
- Provide clarity on confusing legal terminology and processes;
- Explain each part of the document, what it means, when to speak to your health practitioner and what to do with the document after it has been signed;
- Help you update, review or revoke an advanced health directive;
- Arrange a translator if English is not the person’s first language;
- Assist you complete an AHD if you are vision impaired, unable to read or write.
About the Author: This article has been co-authored by Hannah Scallan and Steven Brown. Hannah is a graduate of both the University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University, having completed a Bachelor of Arts (major in ‘Law and Society’’ and minors in History and Psychology) in 2016 and a Bachelor of Laws in 2018. Steven is a Perth lawyer and director, and has over 20 years’ experience in legal practice and practices in commercial law, dispute resolution, and estate planning.