MedQuarter to kick off three-month series on end-of-life planning

There’s one thing that every person on this planet has in common — dying.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, rich or poor,” said Dr. BJ Miller, a San Francisco-based palliative care and hospice physician. Time “is finite and everyone dies. The fact that everyone dies is a uniting factor. You can lead the squeakiest clean life and you’ll still die.”

That’s why it’s important to plan for the inevitable: who will be in charge of advocating for you if you are unable to make decisions; what will happen to your assets; will your children have to clean out the basement?

Miller will be in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 5 to discuss the importance of end-of-life planning and to kick off a series of conversations on the topic hosted by the MedQuarter over the next several months. The events will take place at First Lutheran Church, 1000 Third Ave. SE, on the first Thursday of October, November and December.

“It feels like there’s an opening where society is interested in talking about mortality and the health care system.” Miller said. “There’s a big appetite for these subjects, and it’s been a long time coming.”

Miller believes there’s a handful of reasons contributing to this, including the country’s aging population, the rising number of people living with chronic illnesses and the millions of family caregivers.

“The health care system is hard to navigate — you have to take charge and plan,” Miller said, adding his October talk will center around the social issues of dying and how people can “die well.”

The events help the MedQuarter achieve several goals, said Phil Wasta, executive director — to improve the overall health of the community as well as to better brand the 55-block medical district that encompasses both the city’s hospitals and the Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa.

“From the very beginning, the MedQuarter recognized one of the core assets that exists within our district is the religious community,” he said. “We have three churches within the boundaries.”

So it was just as important to include faith leaders in these conversations.

“One issue that runs across both of those worlds is end-of-life planning. We’re all going to die, it’s inevitable,” Wasta said. “But what are you going to do about it? This will be a great catalyst to launch this conversation in our community.”

The discussions will run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the events are free and open to the community. For more information, visit

If you go

• Oct. 5 — Dr. BJ Miller is a renowned speaker and advocate for maximizing quality of life and minimizing unnecessary suffering.

• Nov. 2 — Understand what happens if end-of-life decisions must be made and you do not have advance directives. Cedar Rapids physician Dr. William Galbraith and Des Moines lawyer Jo Kline Cebuhar will share how the law works to ensure your wishes are followed. Afterward, facilitators will provide individual assistance with documentation of your decisions at an optional tabletop workshop.

• Dec. 7 — Ask questions and participate in conversations about how personal values affect end-of-life planning. A panel of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and humanist leaders will facilitate discussion.

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