Aug 18, 2009

The Health Care Reform We Should All Enact

In the ongoing health care debate, death has taken on... well, a life of its own. One of the more contentious proposals involves Medicare paying for physicians to talk with patients about end-of-life medical treatment options. Geriatric physicians - those most familiar with the concerns of the elderly -- endorse the plan, according to a recent article in Time Magazine. They assert that these counseling sessions will encourage people to open up with physicians and family about their wishes for end-of-life care, with benefits for all concerned.
In my elder law practice, I see first-hand how difficult it is for people to discuss -- sometimes even to think about -- their desires for end-of-life care. Even loving relatives can make the task tough. As one adult son said to his father recently in my office, "C'mon, dad, let's not talk about this morbid're not going anywhere!"

The net result of all this silence? Too many people put off creating legal documents necessary to keep control over their own medical destiny - for example, a living will and health care power of attorney. Without these documents to guide them, family members are in the dark when a crisis arises. Since no one really knows what the patient's preferences are, arguments can ensue over what to do. This is not the kind of legacy most people wish to leave behind.

Sharing your preferences for end of life medical treatment and creating advance medical directives is a gift to your loved ones. In my view, it's also a gift to yourself; for once you get past talking about death, you can go on living life as fully as possible. Whatever comes of the health care reform bill, this is one reform we should all enact in our own lives.

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