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END OF LIFE WISHES: Advance directives make medical decisions easier *

It was a discussion that Mary Peterson didn’t want to have with her children. Then a heart attack in her early 60s forced the issue out into the open.

“When I brought up the conversation about my end of life wishes, my kids danced around the subject, telling me I was young and had lots of years ahead of me,” the former Fond du Lac woman said. “But I knew if something happened to me I didn’t want my kids to have to make those hard decisions.”

Conversations and decisions about advance directives are much easier for individuals and their families when they aren’t facing an immediate crisis, said Sister Mary Mollison, vice president of Ministry & Spirituality with Agnesian HealthCare.

“Through thoughtful planning and discussion, loved ones find it much easier to follow their family members wishes if they have already taken the time to share their personal insights,” Mollison said.

Advance directives are written documents people use to guide medical decisions should they become unable to speak for themselves. Wisconsin law only recognizes two forms of advanced directives: the Power of Attorney for Health Care and the Declaration to Physicians (the Living Will).

According to a study conducted by AARP, nearly 70 percent of Americans do not have advance directives, even though such a document would remove a great burden from families.

“When my grandmother had a stroke that left her incapacitated, I remember my mother wringing her hands, debating with her brother and sister about what grandma would have wanted. There was so much guilt and anguish that could have been avoided. Look what Terri Schiavo’s family went through,” said Peterson, referring to the young Florida woman whose family fought a long, bitter court battle over whether or not to remove the comatose woman from life support.

The Schiavo case demonstrates the importance of having an advance care directive for those 18 and older.

“A lot of people think a living will or power of attorney for health care is for someone old or really sick. But most of the situations that have generated updates in the laws governing these documents have been due to younger people,” said Mary Jagdfeld, social work case manager for Agnesian’s Care Management Department.

Although advance directives are easy to obtain online, through an attorney or health care provider, Jagdfeld says many people shy away from actually filling out the forms.

“It’s a hard thing for people to think about at any age,” Jagdfeld said. “These documents are meant to be a communication tool between the individual and whomever they are naming to be their agents.”

Jagdfeld said many people come face to face with the importance of having advance directives in place when they find themselves immersed in a medical emergency.

“Many times people consider these documents when they’re in a hospital setting either because they’ve begun to realize that they’re vulnerable or their children begin to understand that their parents are at risk,” Jagdfeld said. “Sometimes even then it takes a third party or someone neutral who can ask the questions. I’ve had spouses who couldn’t talk about it and needed a third party to help facilitate the discussion.”

Many healthcare providers are required by law to routinely ask their patients and families if they have completed an advance directive, and can help with available resources to complete the documentation needed.

“This way, in any emergency situation, the document is readily available so the family is not caught without knowing what their loved one wishes,” Mollison said.

Jagdfeld says more and more people are obtaining advance directives on their own.

“I think some have had an experience that made them realize it’s important. When they’re getting their finances in order, this is also what they talk about,” Jagdfeld said. “And then there are those who don’t do it because they don’t feel an immediate need or understand how to do it. That’s why we’re here.”

Article Source: http://freelegalinformation.info

Written by Colleen Kottke, The Reporter

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