New Zealanders making advance directions: a discourse analysis
Advance directives (ADs) convey consumers' wishes about accepting or refusing future treatment if they become incompetent. The issue of making a particular AD, more commonly referred to as a living will, is the focus of this thesis. The typical direction of the living will is that life-sustaining activities such as the provision of mechanical ventilation should be withheld so that a person may die what is hoped to be a 'peaceful death'. Clearly the whole basis of the thinking behind the recognition of ADs is that patients' wishes should prevail. ADs have been championed by some as a means of preserving both dignity and autonomy at the end of life in the face of increasing medical advances in technology to preserve life indefinitely. ADs are seen as a means of promoting peace of mind in will-makers, of allowing carers and family to honour the person's wishes and of stimulating communication between all involved parties.While at present there is no statutory right for people in New Zealand to make ADs, it is considered they have rights to do so in common law as consumers of health and disability services in this country. Little is known about the views of New Zealanders making ADs or their justification for doing so. This small qualitative study, using a discourse analysis approach after Potter and Wetherell (1987), aimed to investigate how the participants justified making ADs. Six people were interviewed and the transcriptions were analysed identifying three dominant interpretative repertoires and three corresponding subject positions.The findings indicated that the participants positioned themselves: as independent self-determining individuals who knew when they were ready to make ADs after witnessing undesirable deaths of close family members; as judges of knowing when inappropriate treatments lead to undignified deaths; and as concerned parents who want to relieve their families of uncertainty in the future when making surrogate end-of-life decisions for them. Witnessing a prolonged family member's death in the past was a contributing factor to the participants making ADs. The participants' recall of these events led them to make their wishes known in advance so that their families, in turn, would not have to go through a similar experience at the terminal stages of their lives. The overarching motivations for formalising ADs was to avoid having life artificially prolonged by receiving life-sustaining treatments as well as the desire to die a dignified death.This study highlights the need for healthcare professionals to value the importance of advance planning with well adults before they lose the capacity to give informed choices at the end of life. The taking of a values history as part of this advance planning may inform family and healthcare professionals about peoples' general values and at the same time confirm and record end-of-life choices for future reference.