Many people have very specific wishes about what medical treatment they would or would not like.
Unfortunately if you lose capacity, decisions on your medical and health care are left to someone else to make. To ensure that your family and treating medical and health care professionals know your wishes, it is important that you take the time to complete an advance health directive.
An advance health directive is a formal way of giving direction about your future health care, when you are unable to give such directions yourself due to incapacity.
An advance health directive allows you to give both general and specific instructions about the health and medical care you would like to receive. For example you could give instructions that you do not wish to receive life-sustaining measures (e.g. assisted ventilation or artificial nutrition and hydration) where you have a terminal illness or severe and irreversible brain damage.
Not only does an advance health directive tell your treating doctors what types of treatment you wish to have, it also informs your family of your wishes and can help to avoid family disputes about what kind of treatment you should have.
You can also use your advance health directive to inform your treating health professionals of any specific health conditions, allergies to medication and any religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that may impact on your treatment.
Before making an advance health directive, you must talk it over with your doctor and have them sign the directive. This is to ensure that you understand exactly what you are signing and that you have the capacity to make the directive.
BELAW offers free advance health directives when you engage us to prepare a will and enduring power of attorney.
The author is Kirsten Lesina, associate at BELAW