A Medical Treatment Decision Maker is the person who has the authority to decide what medical treatment you receive in circumstances where you are unable to make that decision yourself.
Our minds immediately jump to the typical scenario of deciding whether to turn off life support, but it covers more than that one instance. It includes whether to administer prescription drugs or perhaps try an alternative treatment method, whether/when to perform surgery or perhaps try another form of rehabilitation first, or even simpler procedures such as whether to have a flu shot. Of course, whilst you have the capacity to make these decisions yourself, your Medical Treatment Decision Maker has no authority and the medical staff will not take direction from them.
Believe it or not, you already have a Medical Treatment Decision Maker even without signing any paperwork! But are you comfortable with that person making these personal decisions for you?
For most ordinary Australians, your Medical Treatment Decision Maker is the first person (who is reasonably available and willing and able) of the following people in this specific order:-
- Your spouse or domestic partner, then;
- Your recognised primary carer, then;
- Your adult children from oldest to youngest, then;
- Your parents from oldest to youngest, then;
- Your siblings from oldest to youngest.
If you are satisfied with the above order, there is little need for you to appoint a Medical Treatment Decision Maker.
However, if you are unsure about this order or if the thought of it makes your stomach churn, then you need to do something about it. The legislation allows you to change the default order by signing an Appointment of Medical Treatment Decision Maker document prepared by a lawyer.
This kind of document was formerly known as a Medical Power of Attorney but was replaced on 12 March 2018 when the new Medical Treatment Planning and Decisions Act 2016 (Vic) commenced. Rest assured, if you signed a Medical Power of Attorney any time before 12 March 2018, it remains valid.
Whilst the legislation provides that someone in the default order who is not in a close and continuing relationship with you cannot be your Medical Treatment Decision Maker, appointing your chosen friends or family will avoid arguments as to whether you had a ‘close’ relationship at a time when emotions are high and every minute might count.
When considering who to appoint, remember you are giving them the authority to consent or refuse the commencement or continuation of your medical treatment which may literally be a matter of life or death, so it is not a decision to be made lightly. You may, or rather should appoint more than one person as your Medical Treatment Decision Maker but you must create a hierarchy rather than listing them jointly. Also, keep in mind that each person you appoint must accept that appointment by signing the same document.
There are some circumstances where you might choose to appoint a Medical Treatment Decision Maker even if you are happy with the default order. For example, many aged care facilities will require such a document to be on their file when arranging respite care, or you might simply value the certainty that comes with having a document which provides specific names for the generic relationship terms.
If you feel you need to appoint a Medical Treatment Decision Maker or are interested in discussing the contents of this article further, please call our Drouin or Warragul offices to make an appointment, or book online. We would be pleased to discuss your specific circumstances with you.