Help versus harm
There are many treatments available that may prevent people from dying. These are often called life-prolonging treatments.
These treatments may be used when it is expected that a person will recover and the treatment would therefore be temporary. There are situations where recovery does not or cannot occur and then the treatment would be necessary for the rest of the person's life, such as a breathing machine or kidney machine (dialysis).
A substitute decision-maker has an important role in understanding the various treatments that are available. If the person who nominated you is not able to make decisions, you will be asked to decide on healthcare treatments for them. Some advance care plans can be very specific, and include which treatments a person would or would not want in certain circumstances. But sometimes, you might have to make the decision yourself based on the goals and values that the person has written down or has discussed with your previously.
In Australia, a person or their decision-maker cannot demand treatment. Doctors will consider which treatments may potentially offer benefit to the person in terms of prolonging life, improving or restoring function or treating symptoms.
So how do you decide if life-prolonging treatment is right for a person?
Planning and making decisions about life-prolonging treatments can be emotionally difficult for you and your family. You need to weigh up the potential benefits (help) and burdens (harm) from the treatment as it relates to the person. This can be hard, and there is no 'right' answer.
Think about how the treatment would fit within the person's life goals, values and beliefs. In some states or territories, you have a right to say 'no' to any treatment if you do not feel it is right for the person. If you do decide to say 'no' to a particular treatment, the person will continue to receive other medical care. They will not be abandoned by the doctors, nurses and care workers looking after them.
Discuss the particular illness and treatment options with the person's doctor, and ask how such treatments may help or harm them.
The benefits of a life-prolonging treatment might include living longer, and improving the quality of the person's life and treating symptoms. But everyone is different, and the likelihood of success will depend on the person's particular medical circumstances.
The potential burdens of treatments might include more pain and suffering, distress, the possible need to be in hospital or have regular medical appointments and the possibility of prolonging the dying process. Of course, these will also depend on the person's medical and personal circumstances.