Palliative care is care that seeks to improve the quality of life of people with a terminal illness. It aims to ease the symptoms of the illness and provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families.
New South Wales law does not allow for euthanasia or “assisted dying”, and it is important to understand that palliative care does not seek to shorten or lengthen a patient’s life. Instead, the focus is on helping the patient have treatments and receive supports that will give them the best quality of life in the time they have remaining.
Palliative care services are available in a variety of settings. Some patients may need assistance at home, others may be in hospital or be in a hospice or nursing home when requiring end of life care.
Accessing palliative care services does not mean that a patient will no longer be receiving any treatment. Rather, an important part of palliative care is helping patients to decide which treatments will be of benefit to them given their circumstances. For example, this means that some cancer patients may have radiation therapy or chemotherapy, not with the hope of curing the disease, but rather with the aim of improving symptoms that are lowering the patient’s quality of life.
It is important that the decisions made by patients regarding the end of life care and treatment are clearly documented in an advanced care directive to ensure that these wishes are followed.
An advanced care directive will allow a patient to clearly let medical staff know the treatments that he or she wishes to receive. For example, patients may decide not to be resuscitated using CPR if their heart stops beating, or not to be ventilated if they stop breathing. It also allows the person to appoint a substituted decision maker to make decisions on his or her behalf if he or she is no longer able to communicate those wishes.