Advance care planning

If you have not already done so, it is important to think about your wishes for your future medical care, and to discuss these with your family, friends and health care team. This process is called advance care planning.

Although advance care planning is often done when people are told their condition is terminal, or as they approach the end of life, it can be started at any stage, whether you are healthy or ill.

Issues to consider

As it is hard to know what medical care you’re going to want until the situation arises, uncertainty is common. Many people find their attitudes and preferences for medical care change as they get closer to death, and they need to revisit their decision regularly.

To help you decide, think about what is important to you and talk with your health professionals, over several appointments if necessary.

For some people, quality of life is more important than length, but for others, it may be the reverse. Some people may feel there’s nothing worse than death, and will do anything to avoid it, while others prefer to die comfortably without unnecessary and sometimes uncomfortable interventions. You may want to find a balance between what medical care can achieve and the side effects of treatments.

Start with discussions

Discussing these issues with the people around you will help them understand your goals, values and beliefs, and help to ensure that your wishes are respected should you lose the capacity to make your own decisions.

Without these conversations, it’s not uncommon for distressed family members to have disagreements about whether to keep you alive using any means possible or focus on your quality of life. Palliative Care Australia have developed a discussion starter that can help you reflect on your preferences for care and talk about them to your family – visit

Find out more about advance care planning

As part of your advance care planning, you may appoint a substitute decision-maker and record your wishes in an advance care plan and/or advance care directive. See Preparing legal documents for more information about these documents.

To find out more about the process of advance care planning, visit or call the national advance care planning advisory line on 1300 208 582. Palliative Care Australia also has useful information on their website at

End of life law

The law at end of life is complex and can be confusing. The Australian Centre for Health Law Research has prepared the End of Life Law in Australia website. This website provides detailed information about Australian laws relating to death, dying and end-of-life decision-making. 

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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