Four reasons to plan for our future health care now

The following article was featured in The Senior

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things. It has taught us to appreciate the simple things in life, and who and what are most important to us. It has also taught us that our future health, and life itself, can be uncertain. National Advance Care Planning Week, from 20 – 26 March, reminds all of us that 'The time is now to plan for our future health care’ for four good reasons. 

Each person is unique 

We have all lived our lives with a combination of incredible and difficult experiences that have shaped who we are. We all have our own preferences about activities we enjoy, how we want to live and the people who are most important to us. If we are brave enough to think about it, we also have unique preferences about what outcomes of care we would, or would not, want for ourselves.  

Life is precious (and short) 

Unfortunately, all of us will die. For some it will be sudden and for others it will be drawn out. Research shows that most people will be unable to make their own decisions about their health care when they are dying. We do not know when we will lose the ability to make complex decisions for ourselves, nor when we will die. We want to live every day to its fullest but also plan for the ‘what if’ situations. Many of us have wills, remembrance books and funeral plans, but have not planned what our preferences would be before our death.   

Others will not know what we want unless we tell them 

We often think our partner, family and doctor would know what we would want in terms of our health care, but have we ever spoken to them about it? You might think that if you can’t garden, shower and make independent decisions or enjoy a nip of scotch in the evening, then you would not want to keep living. However, the person making decisions for you might think you want to live until you are 100. 

On that basis, they might consent to life-prolonging treatments for you, even if the outcome might be something you would never want. It is a difficult decision for them to make without guidance from you. Families may feel burdened with making decisions or worried they might make the wrong choice. It is a gift to your loved ones to share your preferences so there is less tension during such an emotional time. 

We only get one shot at dying 

If we could not speak or make decisions about our care at the time, what would we want people to know? Thinking about all the little things that make life worth living and why they are important may help. We need to ask ourselves in what circumstances we would want medical interventions and when we might not. Would we want surgery, chemotherapy or resuscitation and at what point might we want to receive palliative care support for symptom management?  

Even thinking about what a good death looks like might help. For example, do you want certain people, pets and personal items around you? Do you want the taste of favourite foods or drinks? Would you want the sound of music, silence or happy conversation surrounding you? Would you want pain managed well? Do you have important religious or cultural rituals? Where do you ideally want to be cared for at the end of your life? 

The time is now 

Take the time to think about what matters most to you, and talk it over with family, friends and doctors so everyone can understand your health care preferences. You can legally appoint someone to be your substitute decision-maker and write down your preferences in an advance care directive. Ask your GP to sign your advance care directive. Check if they can upload your advance care planning documents to My Health Record or you can upload them yourself. Share copies with your chosen substitute decision-maker, family, carers and your health providers. This will ensure documents can be accessed when they’re needed most.  

Watch Advance Care Planning Australia and Creativa’s video, ‘Love is not enough’, that challenges the commonly held perception that a loving relationship is all you need to ensure your end-of life wishes will be met. 

Get involved in National Advance Care Planning Week 

For free, personalised advice, to make a referral or request a printed starter pack, call the National Advance Care Planning Support Service on 1300 208 582 from 9am - 5pm (AEST/AEDT) Monday to Friday.