Prioritising individual choice in health care

If you were unable to speak for yourself, who would speak for you? And what health care decisions would you want them to make?

Between 16-22 April, Australians are encouraged to consider these questions and discuss their future healthcare preferences with their loved ones.

Launching for the first time in Australia, National Advance Care Planning Week is part of an international public awareness effort, coinciding with significant advance care planning events being held in the USA, Canada and New Zealand.

Around half of Australians will not be able to make their own end-of-life medical decisions, yet few people take the active steps required to enable control of their future health care.

The week will challenge all Australians to start conversations with loved ones about what quality of life looks like to them and what they value most. 

“Research shows that advance care planning can help alleviate stress for people who find themselves asked to make medical decisions for loved ones in need. Yet in Australia advance care planning is not common or widely understood,” Dr Karen Detering, Medical Director of Advance Care Planning Australia, said.

“Typically Australians think about life and death as black and white, yet in reality there’s an extended ‘grey’ period, with more of us living with ongoing health issues. In fact 85 per cent of people die after a chronic illness, not a sudden event.

“We want to empower people to understand that they have a choice about their end-of-life care and the steps they can take today to ensure their preferences are known and respected.”

The National Advance Care Planning Week website offers downloadable resources for advance care planning, including videos, personal stories and conversation starters, as well as relevant forms for each state and territory. There will also be information on how community groups can get involved and host their own event.

“Life is unpredictable. Your health status can change in an instant. This is a conversation for everyone, not just older Australians. We need to move beyond the taboos and discomfort about speaking about dying and treat advance care planning as a normal part of life, not unlike retirement planning.”

Coffs Harbour Health Campus will have a display table at the main entry foyer of the hospital during Advance Care Planning Week.

The display will be open between 9am and 12.30pm on Tuesday 17, Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 April. Hospital staff welcome enquiries from members of the community, hospital visitors and staff on advance care planning and advance care directives.