The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Opinion

February 27, 2010

Don't delay decisions about care

When a family member is in the hospital with a terminal illness, many times arguments about the right course of action occur. This can lead to discontent and division among family members. I have seen this many times throughout my nursing career.

I am certain the patient would not want their relatives fighting; he or she would want them supporting each other during this time of grief.

The simple solution is for an advanced directive to be in place. When the patient is unable to speak on his own behalf, this document can help to clarify his wishes for end-of-life care and alleviate conflicts among family members. Advanced directives include a living will and medical power of attorney.

Discussions about death and the dying process are always difficult for patients, families, and health care professionals. This difficult subject needs to be addressed before the final days of life occur to provide the best approach to the process. Advanced directives can help to facilitate the choices patients have made. It is imperative that once these documents are initiated, they are discussed with family members and with the health care professionals assisting with medical care.

During the past year, the topic of end-of-life care has developed into debates about forced euthanasia. I believe that this has negatively impacted public perception of advanced directives and their benefit. In April, an annual national event takes place to encourage discussions about advanced directive planning.

Health care facilities that receive Medicare reimbursement have a requirement to ask whether or not patients have advanced directives and to provide advanced directive information and education. Upon hospital admission, patients are asked whether they have an advanced directive. In my experience, patients frequently believe that I am referring to their last will and testament and a power of attorney for their estate.

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