I have recently discussed in my articles the importance of having a valid Will once you’ve reached 18 years of age. I have also discussed the importance of considering your personal situation and deciding if you should have an Enduring Power of Attorney and Enduring Power of Guardianship. The last of these documents that you should give some thought to is the Advance Health Directive (AHD).
An AHD is a legal document which enables you to make decisions about the future medical treatments you do or don’t want to receive. The instructions in your AHD will only be actioned when you can’t make reasonable decisions for yourself or if you can’t communicate your wishes. In those circumstances, the AHD speaks for you and is effectively your voice to the medical decision-makers treating you.
You must be aged 18 years or older and have full legal capacity to make an AHD. If you have a valid AHD it sits at the top of the “next-of-kin” hierarchy. Except in very limited circumstances, your AHD wishes will take precedence over the instructions of your Guardian (if you have an EPG) and your next-of-kin.
An AHD can be used in relation to things such as such as medical, surgical and dental treatments, palliative care decisions and medical treatments intended to sustain your life. For example, you can state whether you want to receive life-sustaining measures to prolong your life, such as tube feeding or resuscitation. You can also outline the quality of life that is acceptable to you. For example, you may wish to specify that life-sustaining measures are to be withheld or withdrawn in the event that you suffer severe and irreversible brain damage.
An AHD can be a particularly useful document if you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and it is likely that you will suffer certain medical events in the future. With an AHD, you can say in advance which treatments you do or don’t want to receive.
An AHD can also give you peace of mind, knowing that you have made it easy for others to know what your treatment wishes are. An AHD can also take hard decisions away from your loved ones, as you can specify what sort of life-sustaining measures or treatments you wish to receive and take the burden away from your loved ones. You can also include information in your AHD that health professionals should know about you, such as religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs which impact on the health care you wish to receive.
Once you have a valid AHD, it is important that your treating professionals are aware it exists. There is currently no official AHD register in Western Australia. You should therefore provide your doctor and any medical specialists treating you with a copy of your AHD. You can keep a card in your wallet or purse which states that you have an AHD, with contact details as to where it can be located. This information should also be added to the emergency contact information on your mobile phone’s lock screen. If you have access to the internet, you can upload a scanned copy of your signed AHD to your MyGov account under the “My Health Record” (ww.my.gov.au).
If you decide that an AHD would be beneficial to you, you should make your AHD as soon as possible and preferably before an urgent health condition arises, so that your wishes will be known at a time you can’t speak for yourself.