Record your health decisions

Everyone has the legal right to choose the medical treatment we want or don’t want to receive.

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

However, if you don’t have the capacity to make these decisions, are unconscious or unable to communicate, you wouldn’t be able to explain what you want.

So how do doctors work out what treatment you would want or not? And how can you make sure they will do what you would want?

Record what you would want

If you need treatment and are unable to communicate or give consent, the medical staff will ask your family or friends if you have documented your wishes about medical treatments. You are able to document your wishes via an Enduring Power of Attorney and your attorney will make any future health decisions on your behalf. If however you have complex medical needs or you want to provide the directions yourself, you may want to complete an Advance Health Directive.

Note: You can only complete an Advance Health Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney while you have the ability to understand the purpose and meaning of the questions and are not coerced into completing the forms.

The best time to make an Advance Health Directive is now, before any urgent health condition arises. However, it’s particularly important to make one if:

  • you are about to be admitted to hospital
  • your medical condition is likely to affect your ability to make decisions or
  • you have a chronic medical condition that could cause serious complications, such as diabetes, asthma, and heart or kidney disease.

The Statutory Health Attorney

If you didn't document your specific wishes in advance or choose someone to speak for you, or if the health care workers can’t obtain copies of your forms, they will try to find a person close to you who can assume the role of what's called the Statutory Health Attorney.

This doesn’t require any prior action on your part. A Statutory Health Attorney’s status is based on their close and ongoing relationship with you.

By law, they’ll be the first available and culturally appropriate person (over the age of 18)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 isn't the adult's health provider, a service provider for a residential service where the adult is a resident, or a paid carer (although they can be receiving a carer's pension)
  • a friend or relation in a close personal relationship with the adult. Relation can also include a person who under Aboriginal tradition or Torres Strait Islander custom is regarded as a relation.

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

Make time to talk

People close to you may be asked to speak for you about health care treatments so it's important that they understand what matters to you. Having conversations with the people closest to you about your values, preferences and priorities for health care will help make sure they know what you would want if they were asked to talk with medical staff.

"I wrote an Advance Health Directive so my family and carers know what's important to me. My family live interstate and we don't get on well so I’ve also made an Enduring Power of Attorney appointing a close friend to make decisions for me when I'm unable to do so."