Making sure your treatment choices are honoured

Choices about end-of-life matters are hard enough, but what if you are no longer able to speak for yourself? With something called ‘advanced care planning’, everyone can make their wishes known.

Choices about end-of-life matters are hard enough, but what if you are no longer able to speak for yourself? With something called ‘advanced care planning’, everyone can make their wishes known.

Many of us have seen medical dramas involving Do Not Resuscitate instructions. These are standing orders to not try to revive someone who’s had a heart attack, for example. It makes for good television, but in real life it’s a shockingly hard decision for friends, family, and health care professionals to take.

After all, it has to be taken right away – and there’s no way to ask the person involved.

So can you really specify in advance which medical treatments you want?

It’s an important question, because lots of things can stop someone from making their wishes known. An accident, a sudden medical episode, advanced dementia, perhaps even just old age – all of these things can make communication impossible.

It then falls to others – family or health care professionals – to make what are literally life and death decisions.

This is difficult and confusing, and often leaves a long-lasting guilt for the decision-makers, no matter the outcome.

Throwing family members into these heart-rending situations can be avoided by making an advanced care plan. This will see your wishes respected and the burden taken from those you love.

And these days making your wishes known ahead of time is even more important than ever.

Medical science has delivered incredible advances, including options for extending life in its final stages. Decisions about these options involve lots of factors. Will the extra time mean pain or suffering? Do the measures match religious or cultural guidelines?

It’s a reality that makes decisions about life and death all the more complicated.

The first step towards making the right ones for you is to take the time to work out what you want. Talk to friends, family, and your doctor to let them know what you have decided.

These decisions might involve thoughts on resuscitation, for instance, or other types of treatment.

In 2018 laws were made in Victoria which allow people to make their wishes about future medical treatment clear. These cannot legally be overturned by relatives.

You can record your wishes by visiting Victoria’s Department of Health advanced care planning website. Here you can download forms to make an ‘advanced care directive’. In it you can specify what you want, and don’t want, to happen to you if you’re unable to communicate. It includes resuscitation.

Another option is to formally appoint someone you trust to take medical decisions on your behalf.

Advanced care planning can be overwhelming. Thankfully, there is help with this too.

Search the term on Precious Time to find some useful resources, including MyValues, a free not-for-profit service operated by Barwon Health. This allows you to make a profile containing statements to help you identify, consider and communicate your wishes about medical treatments in the later stages of life.

While so much of life and death is beyond our control, we can at least make our wishes known, even when we are without voice. In doing so we preserve our own values – and care for those closest to us.

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