End of Life Law - Mythbusters Advance Care Directives

Mythbusters: Advance Care Directives

Myth 1:

A person must have an Advance Care Directive

No. Making an Advance Care Directive is every person’s choice, and that choice should be respected. Directives are a useful advance care planning tool, but there may be legitimate reasons why a person chooses not to have a Directive.

Myth 2:

Advance Care Directives are just recommendations to inform clinical decision-making

No. Advance Care Directives can be legally binding documents that health professionals are obliged to follow. For example, the law will generally require a health professional to follow a refusal of treatment in a Directive where:

  • the Directive is legally valid (made voluntarily, when the person had capacity, and meets any formal requirements required by State and Territory legislation), and
  • it applies to the health care situation that has arisen.

There are situations where Avance Care Directives do not have to be followed and this varies by State and Territory. Visit State and Territory Advance Care Directives at End of Life Law in Australia for more information.

Myth 3:

A person can't use their Advance Care Directive to refuse treatment needed to keep them alive (life-sustaining treatment)

No. A person can refuse life-sustaining treatment in their Advance Care Directive, even if not having that treatment will result in death.

Myth 4:

A health professional must always give a person the treatment they request in their Advance Care Directive

No. The law generally does not require a health professional to provide treatment they believe is non-beneficial, futile, or not in the person’s best interests. Where a person’s Advance Care Directive requests such treatment, a health professional does not breach the law, or other professional obligations, by not giving that treatment. The position in Queensland is different where the person does not have capacity, and treatment is futile or non-beneficial.

Learn more in the End of Life Law Toolkit factsheet Futile or Non-Beneficial Treatment.

Page updated 19 March 2024