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Op-ed: Are Utahns prepared for the end of their lives?

By Sue Childress

First Published Apr 11 2014 06:18 pm • Last Updated Apr 11 2014 06:18 pm

"In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."

— Benjamin Franklin

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In the past year, national and local news have highlighted end-of-life decision situations that eventually led to legal interventions. On a local level, many Tribune readers followed University of Utah professors Peggy Battin and Brooke Hopkins as they made decisions individually and as a team with their providers to determine the course of his care following a traumatic bike accident. Both Brooke and Peggy had substantial conversations around this topic before and after his accident. After all, Ethics at the End-of-Life is Peggy’s specialty.

Unfortunately, making end-of-life decisions ahead of time is not the norm for most of us. We often fail to have these conversations with our loved ones until it might be too late.

This week many Americans will follow a long-standing tradition and file their income taxes on the last possible day, April 15. Not so coincidentally, National Healthcare Decision Day is also this week, on April 16. Death, in general, doesn’t have an identified "due date," but there is paperwork you could file beforehand to potentially ease the burden on your family.

Advance Directives (ADs), also known as living wills or healthcare directives, allow you to give clear direction to the medical community and your family in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. An AD also allows you to name a specific person, not necessarily your next-of-kin, to be your agent and advocate for healthcare decisions the AD does not cover. My own directives identify a friend in healthcare to assist my children, and I am grateful that my mother has given clear direction to me and my two siblings.

While making healthcare decisions can be difficult in the best of circumstances, making decisions for others is even more complicated. The gravity of making these irreversible decisions can be overwhelming for the next-of-kin. Unfortunately, only an estimated 30% of adults have completed an AD. Considering ADs can be created without a lawyer, for free, and relatively easily, this figure is astonishingly low.

National Healthcare Decision Day, supported by a local Utah effort, exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. We hope all adults, whatever their current health situation, will consider completing an AD. Studies show that roughly 70 percent of us will be unable to make healthcare decisions for ourselves at some point in our lives. Healthcare providers want to know your wishes, to guide your care accordingly.

Many of us have experienced firsthand the magnitude of assisting a loved one through the maze of decision-making at the end of life. Advanced technology, quality of life concerns, and cost are a few examples of the factors involved in making decisions at the end of life. A dignified and comfortable death is the goal for most people, but how this is defined and achieved can be a moving target. An AD assists by providing a foundation for decision-making when you are unable to tell providers your wishes. Naming a health care agent is the single most important thing you can accomplish in an AD. Utah Advance Health Care Directive forms and instructions can be found on the following website through the Center on Aging at the University of Utah: http://aging.utah.edu/programs/utah-coa/directives/


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Who knows what tomorrow brings? After you get that tax return in, consider going to the Utah Advance Directive website and downloading the tool kit. It could be the most important decision you make this year.

Sue Childress is director of nursing services for Huntsman Cancer Hospital.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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