Advance Health Directives in practice
An Advance Health Directive (AHD) is a legal document that contains your decisions about your future health treatment. Treatment can include medical, surgical, dental or other health care.
When you are making an AHD, you should think about the types of treatment you may or may not want in different circumstances, if you were not able to make your own decisions.
When will my Advance Health Directive come into effect?
An AHD comes into effect only if you are unable to make or communicate reasonable judgments about a treatment decision at the time that the treatment is required. In these circumstances, the AHD acts as your voice.
How long is my Advance Health Directive valid for?
Your AHD has no time limit. There is no set time period after which an AHD will elapse or expire.
However, if a long period of time has elapsed between the time that you made the AHD and the time that the treatment decision is required, it may create some uncertainty.
Given that some people can change their mind, it is recommended that you review your directive to ensure it continues to reflect your current wishes and your health.
Can I amend my Advance Health Directive?
Rather than amending your AHD, it is preferable for you to complete a new directive, making sure that you comply with the witness requirements.
You will have to revoke any previous AHDs if you are amending or creating a new AHD.
To revoke an AHD, you must have full legal capacity. If you have lost capacity, you cannot revoke an AHD. The law provides safeguards to ensure that AHDs cannot be made, amended or revoked if a person does not have capacity.
Legislation does not spell out the process of revoking an AHD, the process is governed by common law. Written revocation of the AHD is not a legal requirement.
However, the Department recommends that if you wish to revoke an AHD you give written notification of your wishes to all of those who currently hold a copy of the AHD you wish to revoke.
You should request that all of those who hold a copy return it to you so that it can be destroyed.
All relevant persons and organisations, including your GP, healthcare providers and family members should also be advised in writing of the revocation.
Can I use my Advance Health Directive to consent to some aspects of palliative care and not others?
An AHD allows you to describe in very specific terms which treatments you would consent to (or refuse) in specific circumstances.
Does an Advance Health Directive permit euthanasia?
An AHD cannot require or authorise a doctor or other health professional to take active steps to unnaturally end your life.
Can an Advance Health Directive include instructions on organ donation?
An AHD is ineffective after death and is not the appropriate document to record your wishes to donate organs.
If you wish to donate your organs or tissues, you can register your request on the Australian Organ Donor Register (external site).
What if nobody can access my Advance Health Directive in an emergency situation?
If urgent treatment is required to save your life, prevent serious damage to your health or to prevent you from suffering significant pain or distress, a treatment decision will be made on your behalf.
This decision will be made following order of priority by:
- your enduring guardian, if you have one
- your guardian, if one has been appointed for you
- a person responsible for you (such as your spouse, parent, child, sibling or unpaid carer).
If they cannot be contacted before urgent treatment is needed, the treating medical team will provide the treatment judged to be in your best interest.
How confidential is my Advanced Health Directive?
This will depend on who has a copy of your AHD or in what circumstances you provide access to it.
It is recommended that a copy be given to your enduring guardian (if you have appointed one), your guardian (if one has been appointed for you), general practitioner, hospital, nursing home, carer and your family.
Will my Advance Health Directive be valid in other Australian states and territories?
This will depend on the legislation where you live in your state or territory.
Where to get help
Advance Health Directives
WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network Telephone support
Phone: 9222 2300
Enduring Powers of Guardianship
Office of the Public Advocate
Phone: 1300 858 455 (local call rates from land line only).
Fax: 9278 7333
Cancer and Palliative Care Network
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.