New document will help start a conversation about future health care

A new document released by Catholic Health Australia and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will help ensure people think about their health care needs and discuss them with others.

The new Advance Care Plan guide, which is accompanied by documents for health care professionals and for people receiving care, gives people who are in good health and of sound mind the chance to express what is important to them and also appoint someone to make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so.

"We are mindful that future circumstances can't be predicted, so the ability to name a substitute decision-maker in the event the patient isn't able to think clearly or communicate with a health care team is a crucial one," said Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, acting chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Commission for Doctrine and Morals.

Archbishop Costelloe said that as well as providing a means for people to record the details of their substitute decision-maker, the Advance Care Plan encourages people to talk about those wishes with their family, friends and GP, especially in the event they are called upon to make health care decisions at a later date.

"There are legal mechanisms in place for a substitute decision-maker to be appointed if someone is unable to make their own decisions, but it is only through the appointment of your preferred person that you can ensure that those decisions will be made in accord with your own wishes. As a person comes to the end of their life and as individuals and families deal with sadness, grief and loss, there are many decisions and personal matters needing to be attended to, and the new care plan kit will offer some comfort in providing certainty about future health care provision," Archbishop Costelloe said.

Catholic Health Australia CEO Martin Laverty said it is important that any advance care planning tools are able to recognise the various hopes and wishes that people will have, and what would be overly burdensome for them.

"The new document acknowledges that illness, disease and other life events are unpredictable, and it is best to provide guidance about future medical treatment, rather than specific directives. People of different faiths, different beliefs, different cultures will bring a range of expectations and experiences to the preparation of their advance care plan and in the views expressed when talking about values and goals in relation to future health care needs," Mr Laverty said.

"This Advance Care Plan provides a framework that is consistent with the Code of Ethical Standards for Catholic Health and Aged Care Services in Australia, but it has been designed in a way that will ensure that it is appropriate for people receiving care in any facility and for people of all faiths or none."

The easy-to-use forms will be made available on the Catholic Health Australia ( and Australian Catholic Bishops Conference ( websites for use by families, parishes and other community groups.

"Attempts to give this issue the importance it deserves have largely been patchy and incomplete, but our new guides can be used by people across the country to help guide medical practitioners and other health and pastoral care workers in the support they provide," Mr Laverty said. "We commend these documents to the people of Australia and encourage them to talk with friends, family and their doctor about what they would like in terms of their future care needs."

Archbishop Costelloe said one of the great advantages of the document is its holistic nature.

"This framework looks at health care considerations, but it also looks beyond that to relational, cultural and spiritual considerations," he said.

"Certainly Catholics will want to ensure the future care they request is in harmony with their Catholic faith. Used with other resources which explain the Church's teaching on these delicate matters, the Advance Care Plan guide will help meet this need. More generally, for some people a visit from a priest or religious minister will be important. For others, it might be spending time with family or friends. For others still, they might want to listen to certain music. All these various requests can be recorded and followed."

A new website will be launched in the coming months to further explain Catholic principles that guide end-of-life care and to assist people wishing to use the Catholic Health Australia/Australian Catholic Bishops Conference documents.

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