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The legal needs of older people  ( 2004 )  Cite this report

Ch 5. Health



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Advance health care directives


Advance health care directives (also known as “living wills”) are written statements that contain information regarding a person’s instructions as to the type and extent of health care that they wish to receive in the event of losing the capacity to make decisions. They are similar to other forms of substitute decision-making such as powers of attorney. Whether or not an older person has made formal arrangements for substitute decision-making, it may be useful for the older person to make an advance health care directive. In addition to providing a mechanism whereby an individual can indicate a desire to refuse treatment in advance of losing capacity—advance health care directives can encompass decisions about the management of one’s affairs in the event of losing capacity.

There is no standard format in NSW for advance health care directives: they can consist of specific instructions as to what should be done in particular circumstances, or provide a general description of how the person would like to be treated.7 These can include:

  • who should/should not be contacted
  • what hospital/facility to be treated in
  • types of medical treatment to be refused/consented to (for example, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or artificial ventilation)
  • what staff you want/do not want to treat you
  • if treated at home, the method of treatment.


NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Planning Ahead Kit: Resources for managing financial, health and lifestyle decisions into the future, Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Sydney, 2001, p. 9.

 NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Planning Ahead Kit: Resources for managing financial, health and lifestyle decisions into the future, Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Sydney, 2001, p. 9.


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Ellison, S, Schetzer, L, Mullins, Perry, J & Wong, K 2004, The legal needs of older people in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney