Advance Health Directive
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An advance health directive (AHD)—sometimes called a living will—is a formal way to give instructions about your future health care. It comes into effect only if your mental/cognitive health deteriorates and you become unable to make your own decisions (i.e. you lose capacity to make decisions).
What an AHD includes
An Advanced Health Directive -
- outlines what medical treatment or health care you want if you can no longer make decisions for yourself. It can be general (e.g. that you wish to receive all available treatment) or specific (e.g. that you wish to decline a certain medical treatment)
- enables you to appoint an attorney for health and personal matters
- includes information that health professionals should know, including health conditions, allergies, and religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that could affect your care.
In your AHD, you can give specific instructions about certain medical treatments, such as whether you want to receive life-sustaining measures—such as tube feeding or resuscitation—to prolong your life. You can also outline the quality of life that would be acceptable to you. For example, you might ask that life-sustaining measures be withheld or withdrawn if you have:
- a terminal illness with no known cure or chance of recovery
- severe and irreversible brain damage, and you can’t communicate
- a severe illness or injury that you’ll probably never recover from.
Who can make an AHD
You can make an advance health directive if you’re over 18 and you have capacity. This means, you -
- understand the nature and consequences of your health care decisions
- understand the nature and effect of the directive
- freely and voluntarily make these decisions
- can communicate your decisions in some way.
When to make an AHD
The best time to make an advance health directive is before any urgent health condition arises. However, it’s particularly important to make one if:
- you’re about to be admitted to hospital
- your medical condition is likely to affect your ability to make decisions
- you have a chronic medical condition that could cause serious complications.
How to make an AHD
Firstly, carefully reflect on what you would want and the decisions you have to make. Consider what’s important to you and discuss them with your family or close friends.
We can explain and prepare the Advance Health Directive form for you. A doctor will need to complete part of the AHD form, so you can ask them to explain your options and any unfamiliar terms. The doctor may charge a consultation fee for completing an AHD.
Once the form is fully completed, we see you again and ensure that the form is properly witnessed.
What to do with the completed form
We recommend that you keep the original document in a safe place and give a copy to your doctor, and family member. You could also carry a card stating that you’ve made an advance health directive and where it’s located.
Changing or revoking a directive
You can change or cancel your AHD at any time if you still have the decision-making capacity to do so. It’s a good idea to review your AHD every 2 years or if your health deteriorates. All changes must be in writing and be properly witnessed.
If you don’t have an AHD
A statutory health attorney can be appointed to make health care decisions on your behalf if you can’t make decisions yourself. A statutory health attorney is usually a person with a close relationship to you – such as a spouse, de facto partner, primary carer (not paid), friend or relative. If no one is suitable or available, the Public Guardian acts as the statutory health attorney as a last resort.