I read with interest the opinion piece by Ellen Goodman about Nelson Mandela and her call for end-of-life conversations before they are needed. Many people around the country and in Illinois also agree with her and have been working to help people identify their power of attorney for health care and make their wishes known for many years.
In March, Illinois released a new form to be used by critically ill people to say what treatments that they do and do not want, should their condition become life-threatening. Some people are adamant that they do not want a feeding tube or artificial resuscitation, while others expect that every effort will be taken to keep them alive as long as possible. Still others would want a "try it and see what happens" approach.
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The new Illinois Advance Directive DNR/POLST form is completed with the patient's physician, and provides a way for the patient to understand and communicate what they want in a way that all health providers will understand. POLST (Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) is a type of directive that is used in many states, and has been shown to ensure that a person's wishes are honored. The POLST form is an important tool people can use to communicate their wishes, and more information is available at http://www.cecc.info.
However, nothing takes the place of a clear and honest conversation. Far from being morbid, these conversations can support families in coming together to celebrate the life of their loved one rather than fighting over a feeding tube. As Ms. Goodman states, everyone should have a conversation with their loved ones about their beliefs and feelings with regard to end-of-life care, and how they would like to be remembered. Isn't that the legacy that everyone would want to have?
Director of Foundation and External Relations
Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care