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Advance directives and older people: ethical challenges in the promotion of advance directives in New Zealand


In New Zealand an advance directive can be either an oral statement or a written document. Such directives give individuals the opportunity to make choices about future medical treatment in the event they are cognitively impaired or otherwise unable to make their preferences known. All consumers of health care have the right to make an advance directive in accordance with the common law. When we consider New Zealand's rapidly ageing population, the fact that more people now live with and die of chronic rather than acute conditions, the importance given to respecting autonomous decision-making, increasing numbers of individuals who require long-term residential care, and financial pressures in the allocation of medical resources, there would seem to be a number of compelling reasons to encourage individuals to write or verbalise an advance directive. Indeed the promotion of advance directives is encouraged. However, caution should be exercised in promoting advance directives to older people, especially in light of several factors: ageist attitudes and stereotypes towards them, challenges in the primary healthcare setting, and the way in which advance directives are currently focused and formulated. This paper considers some of the specific challenges that need to be addressed if the promotion of advance directives are to improve outcomes of patient treatment and care near the end of life.

  • Advance directive
  • ageing
  • ageism
  • end-of-life care
  • health care
  • primary healthcare
  • rationing

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