Falling seriously ill and being unable to make medical decisions is a situation no-one wants to find themselves in.
Unfortunately, around four in ten Australians will end up not being able to make their own critical care or end-of-life medical decisions.
Thankfully, there are legal mechanisms you can put in place should you ever find you or your loved ones in this situation. Known as a ‘Legal Will’ or an ‘Advance Healthcare Directive’, this document is a written record of your preferences for future care in circumstances where you are physically unable to provide consent. If no-one is aware of your treatment preferences, doctors may end up using invasive treatments that may not be what you would have chosen for yourself.
So long as your Living Will is correctly prepared and you can demonstrate that you made it voluntarily and fully understand its effect, it will be enforceable and take precedence over any other documents that appoint another person to make decisions on your behalf. This means any medical staff treating you will be obliged to follow the directives you have included in your Living Will.
How do I make a Living Will?
Although the law is slightly different depending which state or territory you happen to be in, for your Living Will to be valid you must be over the age of 18 and ‘of sound mind’, meaning you are rational and able to make your own decisions. The document must be written in the form required by law and an authorised witness, such as a Justice of the Peace, must sign and witness it.
In Victoria, a Living Will needs to be witnessed by a medical practitioner. Some states have actual forms you can use to draft your own Living Will, or templates are available online.
If you have further unanswered questions and feel you need some professional help, talk to a lawyer who specialises in this area.
What medical directives can I include in a Living Will?
Living Wills are intended for situations where a person is facing a very serious medical situation, such as being terminally ill. If you have decided that you want a specific kind of treatment, or perhaps no longer want treatment for a particular condition, you can include this directive in your Living Will. If you do not wish your medical team to go to ‘extraordinary life-sustaining measures’, such as resuscitation, you can also state that in your Living Will.
Having the conversation with your family
Talking about end-of-life care is never easy but being prepared and letting your family know your healthcare preferences means they will be respected if and when you are unable to communicate them yourself.
For your family, understanding your wishes and having a legal mechanism in place allowing them to respect your choices, may relieve some stress and provide comfort during a difficult time.
For further information about Living Wills and Advanced Care Directives visit Advance Care Planning Australia.