You have probably heard of voluntary assisted dying (VAD) and palliative care, but you may not have heard of advance care planning, which is just as important. Advance care planning gives a person the opportunity to express their future health care preferences in case they become critically ill and cannot speak or make decisions for themselves.
Advance care planning is already available for every adult – regardless of where you live in Australia.
Today marks the launch of National Advance Care Planning Week (20 – 26 March), a week to raise awareness about the brave but important conversations more Australians need to have regarding their future health care.
The community is now seeking greater choice and autonomy over their own health care. Over 50 per cent of Australians will not be able to make their own medical decisions at the end of their lives (1) but worryingly, only 15 per cent of people have an advance care directive (2).
Advance care planning provides every adult with choice as to how they want to live and die.
Advance Care Planning Australia National Program Director Xanthe Sansome explains, “As voluntary assisted dying laws are gradually being enacted and become effective across more states, we have seen a groundswell of people wanting to express their right to choose their end-of-life care.
“Voluntary assisted dying enables a person to access medication and to legally choose the manner and timing of their death. Where voluntary assisted dying laws have been enacted, eligibility requirements - including the need for a person to have decision-making capacity and limited life expectancy - mean it is ultimately an option for a few. Advance care planning is accessible and relevant to all adults – regardless of health status or age.
Ms Sansome adds, “While many people are unable to access voluntary assisted dying or do not choose that option, most people want to have a voice in their future health care. Yet if they haven’t talked with their family members or those closest to them about their preferences, they are still leaving their family members and health professionals to make their future medical decisions - often without guidance.”
Advance care planning helps to provide individuals with a sense of control when living with chronic or progressive disease, cancer or dementia, or they are simply getting older. In fact, it is recommended for everyone regardless of their age or current state of health as any of us could have an emergency or critical illness at any time.
The time is now to talk about what matters most to you
National Advance Care Planning Week is the perfect time to talk to those closest to you about what is most important to you for your future health care. Write an advance care directive that can become a powerful statement about who you are, how you want to live and die, and what you value most about living. Appoint a decision maker to be your voice if you can’t make or communicate your decisions.
For free advice or to request a printed starter pack, call the National Advance Care Planning Support Service on 1300 208 582 from 9am - 5pm (AEST/AEDT) Monday to Friday. Visit acpweek.org.au to access a free email starter pack and other information. You can also find face to face awareness raising events and online webinars available Australia-wide during National Advance Care Planning Week. Advance Care Planning Australia™ is funded by the Australian Government and administered by Austin Health.
1 Maria J. Silveira, M.D., M.P.H., Scott et al, Advance Directives and Outcomes of Surrogate Decision Making Before Death, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2010; 362:1211-1218. Available at https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa0907901
2 White, B., Willmott, L. et al, Prevalence of advance care directives in the community: A telephone survey of three Australian States. Internal Medicine Journal, 49(10), pp. 1261-1267. Available at https://eprints.qut.edu.au/126743/2/126743.pdf