The law and practice associated with advance directives in Canada and Australia: similarities, differences and debates

J Law Med. 2003 Aug;11(1):59-76.


This article is a summary of research that investigated the Canadian and Australian legislative framework associated with advance directives in health care. The research focused on the context in which older people are encouraged to use advance directives. These are directions about refusal of medical treatment given in advance of incompetence. An advance directive may be given in a written document (living will) expressing one's wishes, by appointing another person (proxy) to make the decisions, or as a combination of the two. A lack of consistency and clarity about the terminology was found in both countries. This could be a barrier for older people to express their wishes in advance. Several confusing issues were also identified with the legislation related to advance directives. There appears to be a move towards appointing a substitute decision-maker, but with significant differences across the Australian States and in Canadian Provinces. The "conversation" about future decisions emerged as an important theme, together with an emphasis on the process of "advance care planning" replacing the focus on advance directive forms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Legal Case
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death
  • Australia
  • British Columbia
  • Canada
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Living Wills / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Right to Die / legislation & jurisprudence