More than two-thirds of Americans have thought about their end-of-life preferences – yet fewer than a third have so-called living wills.
Connecticut health care activists are hoping to help close that gap by joining in this year’s “National Healthcare Decisions Day” April 16, with a “call to action” event at the state Capitol. The national day is intended to stir people to choose a health care representative or proxy, and to make decisions about future healthcare treatment, in the event they cannot do so at the end of life.
“It’s a difficult conversation – nobody wants to think about their mortality,” said Anne Elwell, a vice president of Qualidigm, the state’s Medicare consulting company, which is organizing the event. “It’s really about life planning — in the way that we think about what we want for our children or what happens to our possessions if something were to happen . . . It’s making sure that your family is not burdened with, ‘Did I do the right thing?’”
Advance directives come in two basic forms: A living will, which details the kinds of medical treatments or interventions a person wants at the end of life, and a health care “power of attorney” or proxy contract, naming a family member or other person to make sure that decisions are made according to those wishes. The Patient Self-Determination Act of 1990 affirmed the right of people over age 18 to declare their future health care wishes through advance directives.
Connecticut allows people to specify what kinds of end-of-life treatments they want administered or withheld, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, artificial respiration, or artificial means of providing hydration or nutrition.
Studies have found that people with living wills more often died outside of the hospital, had particular life-sustaining treatments withheld, and received palliative care to keep them pain-free and comfortable.
Tracy Wodatch, vice president of clinical and regulatory services for the Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home, which represents home health and hospice providers, said advance directives spare families and patients conflict and confusion “before the crisis” of a terminal condition.
“There are just so many benefits to having these conversations in advance. It’s informed decision-making,” versus a crisis-driven situation, which can complicate care decisions for providers, Wodatch said. She said advance directives can be reviewed and revamped throughout a person’s life, as health and personal factors change.
The April 16 event includes presentations by U.S. Rep. John Larson, Deputy State Health Commissioner Katherine Lewis, Stephen Kiernan, author of “Last Rights – Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System,” Kate McEvoy of the Department of Social Services, and Elwell, representing Connecticut Partners for Health.
Timothy Elwell, president and CEO of Qualidigm, will moderate. Some of the presenters will participate in a signing ceremony, in which they will sign off on their own advance directives.
The session runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. To register, click here.
More information about Connecticut’s guidance on advance directives is available here.