Health care decisions

Critical decisions about an adult’s health care are needed when someone is seriously ill, unconscious or unable to communicate.

Although health professionals are legally able to carry out urgent life-saving care, they need to gain consent before proceeding with other medical treatments.

In Queensland, when a person does not have the capacity to make decisions about their health care and needs medical attention, consent can be provided in a number of ways.

Instructions under enduring documents

If an adult has made prior arrangements about their future health care in formal documents such as an Advance Health Directive or Enduring Power of Attorney.

  • An Advance Health Directive sets out a person’s instructions for their future health care. Health professionals can refer to this for direction about treatment choices.
  • Under an Enduring Power of Attorney an adult can be appointed an attorney for a person's health matters should they become incapable of making their own decisions.

These documents will enable the adult’s attorney to make health care decisions on their behalf and provide instructions to health professionals when administering treatment.

Appointed decision-maker: guardian

If an adult has had a guardian appointed by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) to make health care decisions for them, then the guardian’s decisions must be in the adult’s best interests and in a way that is consistent with the Health Care Principle.

The guardian could be a person from the adult’s supportive network appointed as a private guardian.

If there is no one suitable or available, the Public Guardian may be appointed by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal as a guardian for health care matters.

Find out more about being an appointed decision-maker.

Health Care Principle

This states that power for a health matter should be exercised in the way least restrictive of the adult’s rights. Additionally, that power should only be exercised if it is necessary and appropriate to maintain or promote the adult’s health or wellbeing; or if it is in the adult’s best interests.

Impaired capacity

The law presumes everyone has capacity to make their own decisions. You cannot assume someone has impaired capacity without sufficient evidence.

‘Capacity’ is the ability to:

  • understand the nature and effect of decisions about a matter
  • freely and voluntarily make decisions about the matter, and
  • communicate the decisions in some way.

Just because someone has impaired capacity doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t make decisions. Many people with impaired capacity can be supported to make decisions for themselves. The law states that people with impaired capacity have a right to adequate and appropriate support in decision-making.

Advance health directives

An advance health directive is a formal way of giving instructions for your future health care, and comes into effect only if you are unable to make your own decisions.

Find out more about advance health directives.

Statutory health attorney

A person from the adult’s supportive network acts in the role of statutory health attorney if: the adult has not provided direction about medical treatment in their enduring documents; or a guardian for health care matters has not been appointed by QCAT.

Find out more about being a statutory health attorney.

Information for health care decision-makers

If you need to make a health care decision for someone else there are a number of things you must consider.

Find out about making health care decisions for someone with impaired capacity.