Doctor, lawyer to discuss living wills

Only 27 percent have talked to loved ones about end-of-life choices

(File photo)The MedQuarter Regional Medical District including St. Luke’s Hospital, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Medical Pavilion, and Mercy Medical Center in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — If you were in a life-threatening car accident and rushed to the emergency department — would you want the doctors to put you on a ventilator? How about kidney dialysis or a feeding tube?

If you were unable to make those decisions yourself, do you know which trusted family member or friend would?

On Nov. 2, retired Cedar Rapids physician Dr. William Galbraith and retired Des Moines lawyer Jo Kline will discuss the importance of living wills, durable health care power of attorney and end-of-life planning. The pair will lay out how the law works what could happen in the absence of an advance directive.

The event is part of the MedQuarter Regional Medical District’s three-part series focused on end-of-life planning. The conversation will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at First Lutheran Church, 1000 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids. The sessions are free and open to the public.

Doors open at 6 p.m.

“Science has given us powerful tools and equipment to prolong life,” Galbraith said. “But you can’t stop dying.

“Sometimes people die in pain and sometimes there is suffering that’s really needless. It can involve families to a degree that is painful and destructive.”

Doctors work tirelessly to save people, he added, using feeding tubes, ventilators, kidney dialysis and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. But this can leave people alone in a room hooked up to machines rather than surrounded by loved ones in comfort.

“Individuals facing life-threatening illness need to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion,” Galbraith said. “They need to make plans, and they need to plan ahead so that others know their choices.”

And while the majority of people agree that putting together advanced directives is important, a national survey by the Conversation Project shows that only 27 percent of people have talked with loved ones about end-of-life care.

That doesn’t just cause problems medically, it can cause issues legally as well.

“We do not recognize under Iowa law unrelated persons as a proxy by statue — that is to say who the law recognizes to make decisions for you if you can’t decide for yourself,” said Kline, who has written multiple books on health literacy and advance care directives.

“You could live with someone for 30 years and own property together but you will not be recognized,” she added.

Also on that list: grandchildren, grandparents, domestic partners and in-laws.

“Many, many baby boomers are single and have no children,” Kline said. “They would have to name someone in writing — having a written durable power of attorney in health care is the only way that person would be allowed to make decisions.”

More than 275 people attended the first Speak Up series event on Oct. 5 when nationally renowned speaker Dr. B.J. Miller shared his life story about being a doctor and triple amputee pioneering a new model of palliative care.

The final event will be Dec. 7 with a community conversation around how spiritual perspectives and personal values affect end-of-life planning. A panel of Christian, humanist, Jewish and Muslim leaders will lead the discussion and answer questions.

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