Statutory health attorney

A statutory health attorney is someone with automatic authority to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are an adult whose capacity to make health care decisions is permanently or temporarily impaired.

A statutory health attorney will make decisions about your health care if you are too ill or incapable of making them. For example, consent may be needed for medical treatment or an operation while you are unconscious. Or you may have an intellectual disability, dementia or an acquired brain injury and may be unable to make your own decisions.

A statutory health attorney will act if you have not:

A statutory health attorney automatically acts in this role

A person acts in the role of statutory health attorney because of their relationship with the impaired adult. By law, it’s the first available and culturally appropriate adult from the following:

  • a spouse or de facto partner (as long as the relationship is close and continuing)
  • a person who is responsible for the adult’s primary care (but is not a paid carer, although they can receive a carer’s pension) or
  • a close friend or relative (over the age of 18).

If there is no one suitable or available, the Public Guardian acts as the statutory health attorney as a last resort.

Decisions a statutory health attorney can make

A statutory health attorney can consent to most health care decisions (for example medical and dental treatment), including withdrawing and withholding life-sustaining measures (for example CPR, assisted ventilation or artificial nutrition and hydration). They cannot consent to forensic examinations.

A statutory health attorney cannot consent to special health matters such as:

  • donation of tissue
  • sterilisation
  • termination of pregnancy
  • special medical research or experimental health care.

Only QCAT can give consent for any of the special health matters listed above.

Responsibilities of a statutory health attorney

Under the principles of Queensland law, all health decisions made for an adult must maintain or promote their health and well-being and be in their best interests.

This means that when making any decision, a statutory health attorney must:

  • choose the least intrusive treatment if options are available
  • take the adult’s views and wishes into account as much as possible
  • consider a doctor’s opinion.

As a statutory health attorney, your authority ends if the adult regains the capacity to make decisions. Unlike the roles of guardian and attorney for personal matters, your role is not necessarily ongoing. For example, next time a decision needs to be made, the adult may have regained capacity and be able to make their own decisions, or someone else may be more readily available (for instance, you might be away on holidays) to act as statutory health attorney.

Find out more about being a statutory health attorney in our fact sheet.