Published on January 29, 2016
Categorized in

National Advance Care Planning Day

April 16, 2016

Are you a Substitute Decision Maker?

There’s an old saying that there’s nothing more certain than death and taxes.  We all know that death is inescapable, but none of us know how or when it might happen.  That means that you may someday need to make medical decisions on behalf of a loved one, perhaps during a time of crisis. Would you know what to say?

A Substitute Decision Maker (or SDM) is an individual chosen to speak for someone if they can’t speak for themselves. It’s an important part of advance care planning, a process of reflecting on and communicating your future health care wishes to others.

If you are a Substitute Decision Maker (or think you might be) for a loved one, it’s important to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I understand what’s important to my loved one? Do I know their health and personal care wishes?
  • Am I willing to communicate those wishes, even if they aren’t what I would choose?
  • Am I able to communicate clearly with health care professionals and ask questions?
  • Can I make difficult decisions, even during stressful times?
  • Do I know what the legal requirements are in my province/territory?

Research has shown that advance care planning significantly reduces stress, depression and anxiety in family members and caregivers who know the wishes of their loved ones and can act with confidence if needed.[1] It’s so important to have conversations so that you are sure you know what they want.

Need help getting started? Visit for resources, including workbooks, conversation starters, videos and information about legal requirements and local resources in each province and territory.

Don’t be left wondering what to say – take the time to talk to your loved ones today and learn what’s important to them. It’s one of the best ways that we can care for each other.


[1]  Heyland, DK, Allan DE, Rocker G, Dodek, P, Pichora D, Gafni A. Discussing prognosis with patients and their families near the end of life. Impact on satisfaction with end of life care. Open Medicine 2009, 3(20:71-80)