What is an Advance Care Plan  – and why do you need one? 

News & Updates | May 19, 2023 | Dorothy Stephens

Home / News & Updates / What is an Advance Care Plan  – and why do you need one? 
A photo of someone filling out a form, and a headshot of the author Dorothy Stephens

Dorothy Stephens is the Advance Care Planning educator for Dying With Dignity Canada’s Winnipeg Chapter. She has a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Manitoba and worked as a Registered Nurse in Winnipeg hospitals for 30 years. She also has experience as a caregiver and health care proxy for several family members, including during end-of-life care. 

An Advance Care Plan (ACP) is a document that expresses your wishes for the type of health care you would want to receive (or not want to receive) and allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you, if you are too ill to speak for yourself.  

It’s an important document – and yet fewer than one in five Canadians have a written ACP. Fewer than 10% have had a conversation with their doctor about their wishes. Almost half have never even talked with their family or loved ones about their wishes regarding health care. And many of those who do have an ACP have only a very basic document that names a Substitute Decision-Maker (SDM) but contains few (if any) instructions for care. 

Consider the consequences of that lack of preparation. If you enter hospital seriously ill or injured, and no one in your family has any idea what treatment you would accept (or refuse), the health care team will ask your next-of-kin to make decisions or sign consents on your behalf. If no relative is available, treatment will be based on best practices and professional ethics. The result is that you might not get the care you want (or you might get care that you don’t want); the decisions made for you are not the ones you would have made yourself; or the person making decisions for you isn’t the one you would have appointed. 

I am a retired nurse, and I have seen the consequences of not having clear health directives. Imagine yourself in any of these situations – all based on real events: 

Having a clear, well-thought-out, effective ACP will benefit not only yourself, but those closest to you who may be forced to make difficult decisions for you sometime in the future. Following the guidelines in DWDC’s Advance Care Planning kit can help ensure that your wishes for future health care are known and followed. DWDC has ACP forms specific to every province, and you can also contact the local Chapter nearest you for more local information and guidance. 

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