Case proves worth of living will
Nevada County professionals who often deal with death said Thursday that Terri Schiavo’s case demonstrates the vital need for everyone to make their end-of-life decisions clear.
While documents outlining what a person wants as they near death are done by lawyers in wills and trusts, they can also be assembled for next to nothing by individuals.
Dennis Fournier, the executive director at Hospice of the Foothills in Grass Valley, said the group Aging With Dignity has a do-it-yourself living will entitled “Five Wishes,” that can be ordered and filled out by anyone. It is also available at the hospice on Nevada City Highway.
“Everyone needs an advanced health-care directive,” Fournier said. “It allows us to put down what we want done if certain situations arise.
“You can be specific as you like, and it helps the doctors. Physicians will look to these because there will be more and more cases in the future (like Schiavo’s) with the advances in medicine.”
For those who do not have an attorney by choice or lack of funds, the Five Wishes can be done and given to a life decision maker, your doctor and your hospital, Fournier said.
“That’s what I did,” Fournier said. “Anybody can do it. But if you do, just don’t stick it in the top drawer where it won’t do you any good.”
Fournier said it is not unusual for the hospice to take a case where a person has a feeding tube. But patients do not qualify for hospice care unless they have been deemed terminally ill with a six-month prognosis and the understanding that the disease or malady will be allowed to run its normal course.
“Hospice can’t make the call (for life or death),” Fournier said. “Hospice doesn’t prolong life or hasten death.”
Deputy County Counsel Linda Hartman handles conservatorship cases for Nevada County. She said those who have outlived all others or have no legal will can have a conservator appointed prior to death. Sometimes, it’s a private attorney, and other times, it’s a public guardian from the county.
“We step in when there’s a conflict or nobody else,” Hartman said.
Under California case law, conservators and public guardians can make a call on life or death for a patient. But they have to prove that a patient is not conscious at all and there is no advance death directive.
The patient can be taken off life support only after a judge approves it because of a conservatee’s prior known wishes or because it is deemed in the conservator’s best wishes by the court.
“It hasn’t come up with us,” Hartman said. “We try to get advance directives before someone dies.”
Ted Owens, chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, questioned the recent role of politicians in Schiavo’s death, but he said he was glad it raised awareness of making your wishes known.
“It’s unfair that the family couldn’t mutually solve the problem,” Owens said. “I don’t think Congress should have got involved, but it raises the importance of a living will, which I will be making with my wife next week.”
Preparing for the end
A do-it-yourself living will can be ordered from Aging With Dignity by:
• Calling the institution at (888) 594-7437
• Writing to the group at P.O. Box 1661, Tallahassee, FL 32302-1661
• Visiting http://www.agingwithdignity.org
The advance health care directive is also at Hospice of the Foothills at 12399 Nevada City Highway on the back of Meeks Lumber. The phone number is 272-5739.
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