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Advance Care Planning Week challenges Australians to plan for future medical care

This week's National Advance Care Planning Week, running from 22 - 26 March, is encouraging all Australians to prepare for future medical care and normalise conversations around death and dying.

Less than 15 percent of Australians have an advance care directive, even though a third of Australians will not be able to make their own end of life medical decisions. [Source: iStock]
Less than 15 percent of Australians have an advance care directive, even though a third of Australians will not be able to make their own end of life medical decisions. [Source: iStock]

Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA), peak body for advance care planning, has joined with over 75 community and health sector organisations across Australia to ask the young and old to plan for an unexpected future medical scenario as it's estimated a third of people will be unable to make their own end of life medical decisions.

With Australians now living longer than ever before, the campaign is wanting to get rid of the taboo around death and dying and encourage people to do advance care planning so that they can have their values and preferences heard even if they are no longer able to communicate it.

Vice President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Ambassador for ACPA, says, "Most of us expect to have a say in our medical treatment, however a sudden event, or gradual health decline may leave people with without a voice or a choice, if no plan is in place.

"Less than 15 percent of Australians have an advance care directive. This means that millions of Australians are unaware that they have given up their ability to control their own destiny should they lose decision-making capacity. 

"This leaves their loved ones with the burden of making heart-breaking decisions blindly. No family should have to go through that."

A recent study from ACPA, Public knowledge, preferences and experiences about medical substitute decision-making: a national cross-sectional survey, has found that most people left to make medical decisions for their loved ones are generally unsupported and unprepared for taking up the role.

While substitute decision makers can be chosen by their loved one, in many cases they are put in the role as they are a close relation to the person.

This study found that 13 percent of surveyed people that were a substitute decision maker had reported low understanding of what they needed to do in the role. Additionally, only 33 percent of survey participants knew about the laws around substitute decision making.

The study also found that 60 percent of people in the substitute decision maker role heavily relied on doctors and health professionals for support and information but few reported receiving support from these groups.

Study co-author, Dr Karen Detering, says, "Imagine being thrust into a job you didn't apply for, given no training and then you’re expected to make life and death decisions for a loved one. That's effectively what happens every day in Australian hospitals."

If more Australians had advance care planning in place and made sure to talk with their substitute decision makers or family members beforehand about their wishes, this would allow for a more organised approach during very stressful situations.

Planning for future medical care by leaving an advanced care directive can make all the difference in difficult medical emergencies compared to not having any plans in place.

Program Director of ACPA, Linda Nolte, says, "We want to empower people to take active control of their future care and ensure their preferences are known and respected.

"But we can't do it alone. We are grateful for the 75 organisations -  from the Northern Territory to Tasmania - that are bringing these important conversations to their local communities."

National Advance Care Planning Week is an ACPA initiative and funded by the Australian Government.

To learn more about National Advance Care Planning Week or to find out more about advance care directives, visit the Advance Care Planning Australia website.

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