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COVID-19 highlights the importance of living wills

Posted on 24th April 2020
Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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The COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating the importance and usefulness of advance care directives (ACDs) – sometimes referred to “living wills”.

We have been talking about ACDs for years but, as the pandemic continues, they are a key focus for those working in the public health, palliative care and aged care sectors. They should be a focus for many Australians.

An ACD, or living will, is a document (it can be as simple as a card in a wallet) that clearly sets out a person’s wishes about the type of medical care that person wants – or doesn’t want – and preferred outcomes in the case of an (unexpected) life threatening injury or illness. The document can also nominate a substitute decision-maker.

ACDs give people a voice. ACDs also provide guidance to family, clinicians and other health professionals when faced with decisions about a person’s care.

Health professionals and family members must follow a valid ACD – to do otherwise can lead to criminal or civil sanctions. ACDs are given recognition at common law (except in Queensland) and in legislation in states and territories except for NSW and Tasmania. The law is different in each jurisdiction but in NSW, an ACD made in another state or territory remains enforceable.

Clinicians have pointed out that people incorrectly believe that every person who contracts COVID-19 will be in hospital and placed on a ventilator. Some people neither want nor need to be in a hospital environment. And in the situation of a rapidly deteriorating patient needing palliative care, this can be provided anywhere – in a home and in hospital. One less person going to hospital reduces demand on precious ventilators.

Clinicians need to be able to access a very clear plan for how to proceed when faced with a rapidly deteriorating patient. ACDs provide such clarity and are of particular value when having to make decisions about hospitalisation versus home care. A living will can be placed in your My Health Record.

Well run aged care facilities start advance care planning with residents and their families when the resident comes to live there. But the need for an ACD can occur at any stage of life.

COVID-19 is a reminder to us all about the need to have the conversation about treatment options at the appropriate time, and the need for an ACD.

Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you with an ACD or any other estate planning documents.

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