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“Respecting Choices”

NBC’s Rock Center recently aired a segment featuring the great work our friends at Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse, Wis, are doing through their Respecting Choices program, which assists patients facing death to have honest conversations with both loved ones and doctors about which medical treatments they would and would not want as their health declines.

The segment tells the story of Paul and Jean Pearson, following Paul’s diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer. Watch their story here:

Paul’s and Jean’s courage to allow cameras in to enable us to witness their conversation is inspiring. We wish them the best and happiness.

We applaud NBC for telling this story and the entire Respecting Choices team for its tireless efforts to transform care for our elderly and frail. We firmly believe all adults, 18 and older, are best served by having an advance directive.  We shouldn’t wait until we are sick to document our treatment values and goals.  Surprises – some good and some bad – happen all the time in life and, as the Boy Scouts say it best: “be prepared.”  

What did you think of the Rock Center segment? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter

Letters about the Difficult Decisions at the End of Life

The letters to the editor in response to the editorial, “Care at the End of Life,”  published by the New York Times on November 24, highlight the increased attention being given to the need to enable individuals to declare end-of-life decisions in advance.

In one letter, Carolyn Conley, a registered nurse with years of experience treating cancer patients, outlined two main advantages for advance directives:

First, it makes it less likely that patients will have unnecessary, unwanted and possibly uncomfortable tests; second, it lifts the burden of medical decision-making from families during a very stressful period, allowing them to spend meaningful time with their loved ones without the additional stress of having to make these difficult choices.

In a second letter, Adina Kay-Gross, who recently lost her father to metastatic lung cancer, wrote of the experience:

Because he was allowed to call the shots, because, when given all the information, he alone chose the circumstances of his death, the end of his life was as loving, as dignified and as human as he was.

We are so grateful that my dad was spared the suffering that no one should have to endure unwillingly.

In today’s world, with a growing number of Americans caring for aging parents, the increased attention to advance care planning is welcome.

But should the focus on advance directives be aimed only at elderly and terminally ill patients?

Interestingly, neither the editorial nor any of the letters to the editor mention the notion of documenting medical wishes earlier in life. After all, no one waits until they’re terminally ill to buy life insurance, or until they’re on their deathbed to think about organ donation.

It’s time to take advance care planning one step further. We should not only be encouraged to decide matters of medical care at the end of our lives, when it may be impossible to communicate our wishes. We should take action to make these tough decisions as we enter adulthood, so that our voices are preserved in all medical situations.

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