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 you 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 your life, such as a ventilator (breathing machine) or dialysis (kidney machine).
In Australia, a person or their decision-maker cannot demand clinically inappropriate 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.
When planning for future care you should consider whether life-prolonging treatments are right for you. You can make your choices known by creating an advance care directive.
Deciding if a life-prolonging treatment is right for you
You need to weigh up the potential benefits and burdens from the treatment as it relates to you. This is usually a hard decision and you need to choose what is right for you.
Think about how the treatment would fit within your life goals, values and beliefs. You have a right to say 'no' to any treatment if you do not feel it is right for you. If you do decide to say 'no' to a particular treatment, you will continue to receive other medical care. You will not be abandoned by the doctors and nurses looking after you. If you are nearing the end of your life, palliative care could be important.
Discuss your particular illnesses and treatment options with your doctor and ask how such treatments may help or harm you. You also need to consider how the treatment fits with how you want to be cared for. One option you might be able to consider is to have a trial of the treatment your doctor is proposing. You can stop the treatment if it does not meet your needs.
Planning and making decisions about life-prolonging treatments can be emotionally difficult for you and your family, but it can also be comforting. If your loved ones ever need to make decisions on your behalf, they will know what you would want. And you can feel confident that your preferences are known and understood by those closest to you.
Your doctor, nurse, or other health or care worker can help you learn about these treatments and can help you decide.
Benefits of life-prolonging treatments
The benefits of a life-prolonging treatment might include living longer and improving the quality of your life. But everyone is different and the likelihood of success will depend on your particular medical circumstances.
Potential burdens of life-prolonging treatments
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 your medical and personal circumstances.
Types of treatment
Below are just a few of the treatment choices that may be encountered during a serious illness. The benefits and burdens of these should be considered in light of your goals, values and beliefs.
Contact our National Advance Care Planning Support Serviceon 1300 208 582 for more guidance on life-prolonging treatments. We're available 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday (AEST).