Serious Illness Decision Making
Watch these videos to learn more about serious illness decision making:
What is serious illness?
Serious illness is the kind of illness that requires you to be in the hospital, like a bad pneumonia or a major heart attack. You are so sick that you may die, but there is also a chance that you may recover. You may have already thought and talked about your wishes about your care at the end of your life or terminal care. Or you may not feel that planning for end of life or terminal care is important to you because you are not sick or not close to the end of your life. But this is different. We are planning for serious illness, not terminal or end of life care. We want to help you understand how values and preferences are an important part of decision-making about medical care during a serious illness — whether you live or die.
The role of the Substitute Decision-Maker
When you are seriously ill, the doctors will speak to you and explain what is going on and how they might treat you. But most people who are seriously ill are unable to think properly or speak. If this happens, doctors will usually turn to your Substitute Decision-Maker, a person who would make health care decisions for you if you were not able to.
Your Substitute Decision-Maker should be someone who can communicate clearly with the health care team, and is willing to make difficult decisions for you during a stressful time, even if it is not something that they would want for themselves. Don’t think that your Substitute Decision-Maker will know what is right for you to do by themselves. Part of good planning is to choose your Substitute Decision-Maker and communicate clearly to them your values and preferences so they are prepared to speak on your behalf if you were unable to do so. Make sure that you choose someone who can do this for you, and tell them about your values and preferences.
Watch this video to learn more about how to decide on a Substitute Decision-Maker:
Determining what medical treatments are right for you!
Sometimes when we ask people what medical treatments they would want during serious illnesses, they say: “It depends. If I’m going to turn out okay I’d want you to do everything. But if I’m not going to turn out okay, then I want you to keep me comfortable.” Unfortunately, we can’t predict for sure how things will turn out.
It’s a bit like predicting the weather. Some days, the forecast may say there’s a 50% chance of rain. You can’t be sure whether it will rain or not, but you still have to decide whether to take an umbrella or raincoat with you just in case, or whether you stay indoors. It’s the same with your medical care. We don’t always know in advance what might happen, so it’s good to have a plan in case you become seriously ill, and you are unable to think and communicate.
It’s important to remember:
Just because you want something doesn’t mean you will always get it. The medical treatments you receive depend on your values and preferences, but also your illness, your doctor’s recommendations, and how you are doing. Your health care team will consider your values and preferences and make decisions with you or your Substitute Decision Maker – the person you choose to speak for you if you couldn’t speak for yourself.
Note: The terms Substitute Decision-Maker and Advance Care Plan are used in some areas, but not others – use this chart to find the terms that are used in your province or territory.