If you were very unwell and not able to communicate your preferences to others, who would you want to speak for you? What would you want them to say?

Putting a plan in place is about being heard even if you were unable to speak for yourself. This week we celebrate National Advance Care Planning Week encouraging all Australians to plan for tomorrow, live for today.  

Advance care planning helps to ensure that your loved ones and your doctors know what you value in your life and what your health and personal preferences really are, even if you cannot communicate them for yourself. 

By appointing a substitute decision-maker you are permitting that person to make health and clinical care decisions on your behalf should you loose the capacity to do so. Offering someone this significant power can seem like a rather unnatural and daunting thing to do, however it is important to have measures in place should you or your family face such a situation, giving everyone peace of mine that your preferences are understood, respected and executed as you would want them to be.

When it comes to choosing the right person as your medical decision maker, it is important to make a balanced, well thought out, informed choice, as well as follow the correct procedures to ensure your desired intendment is in place.

Deciding who to appoint

Firstly, in order to appoint your substitute decision-maker, you must be considered a reliable adult with competent decision making capabilities. For example, you may not be deemed ‘capable’ to make the decision if you are a person living with a mental impairment, illness or disease such as dementia.

The person you appoint as your substitute decision-maker should be a person who understands and respects what you want, what you value, as well as someone you entirely trust. You may appoint more than one person for the role if you wish, however only one individual can perform the decision making duties on your behalf at any one time.

It is important that you and your appointed decision maker both clearly understand the duties of the role and that your decision maker knows and values your preferences for medical treatment. Once you have decided who to appoint, you need to formally document your appointment.

Signing and making it official

Forms and requirements for writing Advance Care Directives and appointing substitute decision-makers vary between Sstates and territories. Find relevant forms and resources for your State/Territory at the Advance Care Planning website.

You will need to document your decision in writing by filling out the relevant form/s and sign under the witness of authrorised designated people. You may also choose to include limitations and conditions over the power your appointee has on your medical decisions.

The person(s) you appoint must also sign and date the appointment of substitute decision-maker form, again in front of a witness. Be sure to keep the form in a secure place, such as your home or with a trusted family member, and provide your doctor with a copy. You should also ensure your medical decision maker is aware of its location or has a copy in case they require it.

Planning is for everyone

Whatever our age it’s important to share what our personal preferences are, discuss them with friends, family and loved ones and record them in an Advance Care Directive ensuring what you value is understood and respected regardless of what circumstances come your way in life. Advance care planning is particularly important for people who are older and are frail, or people who have a chronic illness, multiple diseases, an early cognitive impairment, or are approaching their end of life.

For more information, visit www.advancecareplanning.org.au