Is it time for Australians to make future medical decisions?

Media Release

23 March, 2020

COVID-19: is it time for Australians to make future medical decisions?

National Advance Care Planning Week kicks off today encouraging Australians to plan their future care. But it prompts the questions – what does this mean in a time of COVID-19 and is now the right time?

In early March nearly 200 organisations and community groups across Australia had opted to host an awareness-raising event to encourage people to consider their future medical treatment preferences.  However many events have been cancelled in the past week due to concerns around coronavirus.

“When we set the date for this initiative back in November 2019, little did we know that the world would be gripped by a disruptive global pandemic.  It’s disappointing but understandable that so many events have been cancelled,” said Dr Karen Detering, Medical Director of Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA).

“Yet advance care planning is more important than ever in these uncertain times. In the months ahead, thousands of Australians face the prospect of becoming suddenly and seriously unwell.  I’m concerned that more than 85% of Australians are without an Advance Care Directive as w­­­e face the impact of COVID-19.

“I urge all Australians – do what you can to prepare for a scenario where you may be unable to make your own medical decisions, especially if you’re older or have chronic illness. I’ve had these conversations in recent weeks with my patients and my own family.  It has been quite empowering for all,” said Dr Detering.

Dr Chris Moy, Chair of the AMA Ethics Committee and advance care planning advocate shares these concerns. “We understand that these are very unsettling­­­­ times for all of us. People are justifiably worried about elderly friends and relatives, particularly those with conditions such as lung and heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” said Dr Moy.

“But now is the time for planning, not panic. It’s time for families to start conversations about their preferences for treatment in the event they become suddenly unwell. For some people planning ahead can offer a sense of control in a time of uncertainty.

“Choose a person you trust to make your medical decisions. It may be a difficult conversation for some people but it’s a small, yet powerful act of love that will make it easier for those left who may need to make tough decisions on your behalf. Those of us in the medical profession have seen the fall out of families being unprepared for these scenarios and it’s heart breaking,” said Dr Moy.

For people seeking personalised advice about advance care planning, ACPA operates a free National Advisory Service to support the general public and healthcare professionals and aged care providers. In recent weeks there has been an increase in phone queries.

“We expect to retain full service to Australians during this crisis through our National Advance Care Planning Advisory Service. If you’ve got questions about your individual circumstances or a loved one, get in touch. We’re here to help,” said Dr Detering.

The third annual National Advance Care Planning Week runs 23 – 27 March. The website offers a range of free resources including conversation starters, free email info pack and thought-provoking video.

Source: Advance Care Planning Australia.