Jane O'Connor doesn't want to be resuscitated if she goes into cardiac arrest. She says her daughter calls her a control freak.

The 72-year-old former nurse put her decision down in writing when she set up her Advanced Care Plan several years ago after finding out she had chronic obstructive airways disease, an illness that will kill her.

"My daughter didn't understand 'not for resuscitation'. I had to explain, 'no, I don't want it'," Mrs O'Connor said.

Resuscitation wasn't like how it was shown on TV, she said, and only 5 to 10 per cent of people were "okay" after cardiac arrest.

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If they didn't die, it was likely they wouldn't be "the same as they were before".

"I don't want to be like a vegetable ...

"Also, because of my disease, I don't want to be on a ventilator; you'd never get me off. It might work for a while and then you're sitting there, possibly not even knowing, with a machine breathing for you. Is that life?"

Thanks to Mrs O'Connor's care plan, she is able to specify what she does and doesn't want when she becomes too ill to speak for herself.

The Advanced Care Plan, or ACP, is a document people can fill out with their loved ones and discuss with their doctor so their wishes are known.

The document will be sent to the hospital and kept on file, and the patient and their GP each have a copy.

Mrs O'Connor keeps her spare copy with her and takes it with her when travelling.

"I've discussed with my family what I've put down so that everyone knows exactly what I'm doing."

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Her time as a nurse made her aware of how family often didn't know or understand what their loved ones wanted near the end of their life.

Wanganui doctor Alan Mangan said the ACP could help family members in a time when they were faced with tricky decisions. It provided guidelines.

"That brings, I think, a sense of relief and comfort."

Mrs O'Connor, who has two children, aged 41 and 42, felt very strongly that people should set up a plan.

"A lot of people don't like to think that they're going to die, which is a perfectly normal process, isn't it?"

Dr Mangan said there was "increasing research" showing that the presence of an ACP helped people to be more relaxed in their last few years of life.

"They know if they're in a state of severe illness their wishes will be met."

While some doctors did not like the idea of an ACP due to their own values, patients could always go to the Whanganui Regional Health Network for more information, Dr Mangan said.

"It's about people having conversations with their families around what they may or may not decide for their health care in the last weeks or days of their life, and then it's about putting it down on paper so that their family is informed."

Mrs O'Connor and Dr Mangan hope to use today, Conversations That Count Day, to raise awareness about ACPs and how they can benefit everyone, including younger people with no chronic illnesses.

"You don't know if you're going to drop dead the next day," Mrs O'Connor said.