On Advance Care Planning Day, it’s time for Canadians to stop making excuses and get talking

I’m too busy. It’s bad luck. I’m too young. These are just a few of the reasons why Canadians avoid conversations with loved ones about what might happen if they couldn’t make medical decisions for themselves. On April 16, it’s time to start talking.

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) is leading National Advance Care Planning Day, an initiative of its year-round Speak Up Campaign, which encourages Canadians to reflect on and communicate their end-of-life wishes.

What is advance care planning?

Advance care planning is a process of communicating one’s future health care wishes and naming a substitute decision maker to make medical decisions for us if we are unable to do so. An astounding 86% of Canadians have never heard of advance care planning, and less than half of have discussed their medical wishes with a friend or family member.

“It’s easy to make excuses – we are all busy, we think it’s depressing, we’ll do it later,” says Louise Hanvey, the Project Director, Advance Care Planning in Canada Initiative, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. “But the reality is that you really don’t know when something might happen to you and you are unable to speak for yourself. Who would make decisions for you? Do they know your wishes and what to say or do?”

The Partnership’s involvement in palliative and end-of-life care and advance care planning

The Partnership launched the Person-Centred Perspective Palliative and End-of-Life Care initiative in 2014 with five funded projects with the aim to improve access to and continuity of care for cancer patients and their families. Recently, four new provincial projects have been launched to accelerate Advance Care Planning and Goals of Care in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, with CHPCA providing tools, guidance and support. Recognizing the importance of patient and family preferences for quality symptom management and end-of-life care, these projects introduce early recognition of the need for a whole-person approach to care and to determine ways to benchmark and measure improvements in how care providers respond to the of patients and their families.

Advance care planning for cancer patients and oncologists

For cancer patients, the advance care planning website offers an evidence-based toolkit that describes the process of advance care planning and why it is important, as well as tips and resources for getting started. For oncology professionals, they have developed another tool that provides practical suggestions for when to have the discussion, with specific conversation starters that can help professionals get talking with their patients.

“National Advance Care Planning Day is the perfect time to have these important conversations with your substitute decision maker, family and friends,” says Ms. Hanvey. “It’s time to stop making excuses – and start talking.”

How to get started with advance care planning

Visit the advance care planning website for information for patients and professionals alike, workbooks, videos, conversation starters and legal requirements and local resources in each province and territory.

For more information on palliative and end-of-life-care, see the palliative care resources section of Cancerview. On National Advance Care Planning Day, start the conversation and join us online using #ACPDay2016.