Health care decision making at the end of life

Published 1 April 2008

Helping older people plan in advance what medical treatment they do or don’t want to receive in the event that they can’t speak for themselves is the focus of a workshop to be held in Coffs Harbour during Seniors Week, starting on April 7.

A series of other workshops will be during Seniors Week in Ballina, Brunswick Heads, Lismore and Tweed Heads.

The Advance Care Planning workshop is being run by the Aged Services Learning and Research Collaboration (ASLaRC), a partnership between Southern Cross University and the University of NSW.

Professor Colleen Cartwright, director of ASLaRC, said planning for health care at the end of life was just like taking out an insurance policy.

“Who will speak for those who can’t speak for themselves? People still become confused about who is authorised to make those decisions and many people are unaware that it’s not necessarily their next of kin,” Professor Cartwright said.

At the workshop she will be explaining the documents that are available to help people make sure that their wishes in regard to their medical treatment are known and respected.

“A lot of people are fearful about the end stage of their lives, but this is like an insurance policy. When people do complete an Advance Health Care Directive it is often a big relief as it is a legally binding document,” she said.

“It also takes a lot of pressure off family members and carers, as well as taking the burden of decision-making away from health care providers, such as doctors and nurses.”

Professor Cartwright said the Advance Health Care Directive gave people the opportunity to say at what point treatment should stop in the event of a life-threatening illness or injury.

For example, it gives people the choice to say that if they have a terminal illness and their heart stops that they do not want to be revived, or that they do not want to be put on a permanent ventilator.

“We always encourage people to talk to their families and if they are admitted to hospital to take the document with them,” she said.

“A lot of younger people are also making these decisions. Anyone can lose the capacity to talk for themselves, through injury or illness, and it’s important that family members aren’t left to make such important decisions.”

The Coffs Harbour Advance Care Planning Workshop will be held on Friday, April 11, from 9am to 11am at the Coffs Ex-Services Club. There is no charge but bookings are essential to Leanne Carpenter on 66593197 or email

Other seminars are being held on:
Monday, April 7: 50’s Plus Expo, Ballina RSL Auditorium
Tuesday, April 8: Ocean Shores Country Club, Ocean Shores and Banora Point Community Centre.
Wednesday, April 9: Lismore
Thursday, April 10: Ballina

Photo: Professor Colleen Cartwright will be hosting seminars during Seniors Week.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.