Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Senior Associate and Accredited Aged Care Professional, Debbie Sage, discusses the importance of National Palliative Care Week, which is held from 22 – 29 May 2022, to ensure everyone understands the benefits of palliative care and the advantages of planning for the future.
This week is National Palliative Care Week, organised by Palliative Care Australia (PCA) and supported by the Australian Government Department of Health, which is the nation’s largest annual awareness-raising initiative to help Australians understand the benefits of palliative care.
The theme for this year’s campaign is “It’s your right”, which acknowledges every Australian’s right to access high-quality palliative care when they need it.
Palliative care is not just for the elderly, it is for anyone suffering from a life-limiting illness, at any age.
What is palliative care?
The care you receive when you are suffering from a life-limiting illness is called palliative care. Any serious illness that cannot be cured may require palliative care. It helps you live as comfortably and as fully as possible until you pass away. You can receive palliative care in the comfort of your own home, at the hospital, at a hospice, or at an aged care facility.
Palliative care is often provided to people suffering from:
- Motor neurone disease
- End-stage kidney disease
Palliative care not only looks after the patient but also supports the patient’s family and loved ones, who are often involved in caring for the person and struggle with the idea of someone they love suffering from a life-limiting illness and being in pain.
The aim of palliative care is to help manage someone’s physical symptoms such as pain, providing emotional support, assistance with things such as washing, dressing, or feeding, and support for families who need to talk about sensitive issues.
Palliative care providers can consist of doctors, specialists, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, psychologists, volunteers, and other medical professionals.
Care should be as personal and tailored to each individual as much as possible. Planning ahead is the key to ensuring that if the time comes where you need palliative care, or end-of-life care, your wishes and instructions can be fulfilled, and your loved ones understand exactly what you want.
It is important to be able to discuss your wishes with your loved ones ahead of time so that everyone is on the same page. Whether your wishes include being cared for in the comfort of your own home, or receiving specific treatment, there is a lot to consider.
You do not need to wait until you are suffering a life-limiting illness to document your wishes in the event you require additional care. You can (and should) create these important legal documents as soon as possible. The documents can be amended at any time, so long as you have the mental capacity to do so.
It is always recommended that you have these documents in place before your health deteriorates so that you have documented your instructions clearly, while you have the capacity to do so and before anything unexpected may occur.
The main documents you should always have in your life tool kit include:
- Your Will – your Will should be prepared by an experienced estate planning lawyer who can ensure your wishes are documented properly and that your Will is a true reflection of your current intentions, taking into consideration your family dynamics, the assets you own, how those assets are owned, and who you want to benefit from your estate.
- An Enduring Power of Attorney – this is one of the most important documents you can create in your lifetime. Unlike your Will, this document will come into play when you are alive if you lose mental capacity (whether it is temporarily or permanently). An Enduring Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone that you trust to step into your shoes and manage your financial and personal affairs if you can no longer make these types of decisions for yourself. Everyone over the age of 18 should have an Enduring Power of Attorney, no matter their age or health status.
- Appointment of Enduring Guardian (NSW) – In NSW, an Appointment of Enduring Guardian is required so that you can appoint someone to have the power to make medical and lifestyle decisions on your behalf if you lose mental capacity to make these types of decisions for yourself. The types of decisions that a Guardian may make can include medical treatment you receive, where you live if you need additional care such as moving into an aged care facility, and refusing treatment in accordance with your instructions etc.
- Advance Health Directive – this document will give you the opportunity to specify what healthcare treatments you would like to receive, or not receive, if you are unable to make or communicate your decisions at the time. An Advance Health Directive can be particularly important if you are about to be admitted to hospital or if you have a chronic medical condition that could cause serious complications. It gives you control over the care you receive and allows you to express your preferences so that your loved ones can follow your instructions and ensure you are treated the way you wish.
Dignity at every stage of life – what options are there past palliative care?
Palliative care is imperative to give people the dignity they deserve, at every stage of life.
Palliative and end-of-life care are two different things, however, palliative care does encompass end-of-life care but is also so much more.
When it comes to end-of-life care, this typically relates to the last 6-months of someone’s life when they are receiving palliative care. End-of-life care focuses on maintaining the quality of life as long as possible and allowing patients to have control over their care and to choose to pass with dignity.
When pain or suffering can no longer be alleviated by palliative care or end-of-life care, eligible people can now choose voluntary assisted dying, with all states in Australia legalising euthanasia laws after New South Wales, the last State to do so, recently passing a bill legalising voluntary assisted dying on 19 May 2022. Although it has been legalised, voluntary assisted dying is not yet available in New South Wales, as it will now begin an 18-month implementation period to establish how the program will work.
Although each state has now legalised euthanasia laws, each state’s laws do slightly vary. In New South Wales, a person can choose whether to take the medication themselves or have a health practitioner administer the medication for them. In contrast, in other states, self-administration is the default method for voluntary assisted dying.
Everyone should be able to have a say in how they live, the care and treatment they receive, and how they die if they are terminally ill and suffering.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – supporting our clients through every stage of life
As a leading aged care and Wills and estates law firm, we are heavily involved in community-focussed initiatives to support aging Australians and contribute positively to our community. Our team attend Seniors Round Table events each month to join the conversation with like-minded professionals and help improve the aged care and retirement living sectors.
We believe in supporting community programs and charities that make a difference in people’s lives, which is why we host community Wills days throughout the year so that we can connect with the community, help raise vital funds for worthy charities, and give people the opportunity to have their Will drafted by an experienced estate planning lawyer, documenting their wishes and planning for the future.
We want to empower people to take control of their future and to give them peace of mind that their wishes will be preserved if the unexpected happens.
If you have any queries related to aged care or Wills and estates, please contact our friendly team any time by contacting our Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email firstname.lastname@example.org or free call 1800 621 071.
Our lawyers are available for appointments at any of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta, Kingscliff, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. If you are unable to visit our offices due to ill health, our team can come to you.
Talking about end-of-life care: Advance Health Directives and Voluntary Assisted Dying – knowing your options and planning for the future