An advance health directive is a formal way of giving instructions for your future health care and comes into effect only if you are unable to make your own decisions. It allows you to formally express your wishes about your care in certain crisis situations well in advance of anything happening. It helps you to maintain control of how you want your treatment managed and relieve your family of these difficult decisions.
When to make an Advance Health Directive
While you are in good health, it is difficult to imagine that one day you may become incapable of making or communicating decisions about your medical care. But it can happen to anyone, at any time. A sudden illness or accident may temporarily or permanently leave you without the faculties to decide on your treatment options. This can put an overwhelming stress on family who are left to try and discern your wishes and balance decisions regarding such critical issues as prolonging life and relieving suffering.
Therefore, the right time to act to get your Advance Health Directive in place is while you are in good health – i.e., now!
No matter what age you are now or what health condition you are in, planning ahead with an Advanced Health Directive today may relieve a lot of heartache and difficulty for your family in the future.
It is also of particular importance for those people who may not haveclose family or friends to help them with these decisions should the need arise.
What an Advance Health Directive (AHD) covers
An Advance Health Directive allows you to plan what medical treatment or health care you would like if you cannot make decisions for yourself. It also enables you to appoint an enduring attorney for personal and health matters if you wish.
You can use your directive to express your wishes in a general way, such as stating that you would want to receive all available treatment.
You can include relevant information about yourself that health professionals should know, such as special health conditions, allergies to medications and religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that could affect your care.
You can give specific instructions about certain medical treatments. For instance, you might feel strongly about whether or not you want to receive life-sustaining measures to prolong your life such as heart resuscitation, assisted ventilation or artificial nutrition and hydration.
You can use your directive to outline your views about the quality of life that would be acceptable to you. For instance, you might decide to specify that you would like life-sustaining measures withheld or withdrawn in certain situations, such as if you were to have:
· a terminal illness for which there is no known cure nor chance of you recovering
· severe and irreversible brain damage so that you are unable to communicate
· an illness or injury so severe that there is no reasonable prospect that you will recover.
Limitations of an Advance Health Directive
While an AHD does let you retain responsibility for your care, it is not an open-ended document with unlimited power. It allows you to give specifics on your treatment wishes in certain medical situations, but it does not allow you to make any illegal requests, and it cannot in any way allow you to request or give instruction on euthanasia.
Similarly, they do not allow you to make requests on issues of basic care, such as hygiene and food.
The AHD does not replace a clinical treatment plan, but rather provides a reference to inform the treatment plan developed by your medical professionals.
Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Directives
If you have an Enduring Power of Attorney for personal and Health matters, your attorney or attorneys are authorised to make health care decisions for you for similar matters as are covered by an AHD .
The major difference is that in an AHD you make the decisions now for the care you wish whereas in the power of attorney your attorney makes the decisions for you but only if you are unable to make that decision for yourself at the time.
Preparing an Advance Health Directive
When putting your AHD together, it makes sense to consult with family members so that they are aware of the thinking behind your preferences, as well as giving them the opportunity to talk through their concerns about your decisions.
It’s also necessary to involve your general practitioner so that they can explain the medical options to you, answer your questions and clarify any concerns you have from a medical perspective.