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Importance of Medical Directives: End-Of-Life Wishes Reflected in Barbara Bush’s Passing

by Phil Levin, Esq. on May 4th, 2018

Former First Lady Barbara Bush died at her Houston home on April 17, surrounded by her family. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, and had been hospitalized multiple times in recent weeks. Following an Easter weekend in the hospital, the 92-year-old decided to let nature take its course. She rejected additional life-prolonging measures, which likely would have included being attached to a breathing machine. The family announced her choice for “comfort care” only and supported her decision. She died with her husband of 73 years, President George Herbert Walker Bush, holding her hand.

The timing of her decision and passing has particular significance given that National Healthcare Decisions Day was April 16. Established in 2008, the purpose of NHDD is to encourage Americans to complete advance directives and to talk to their family about their healthcare wishes, including their end-of-life wishes. According to a 2013 survey by the Conversation Project, only 27% of Americans have done so — even though 90% say it’s very important!

Conversation Project

Nathan Kottkamp created National Healthcare Decisions Day as a result of his experiences serving on hospital medical ethics boards. He writes on the NHDD website: “Time and time again, families, providers and health care administrators struggle to interpret the wishes of patients who never made their healthcare wishes known (or who failed to create an advance directive to record their states wishes.)” Kottkamp applauds the Bush family for going public with this most personal decision and hopes it will encourage others to create health care documents and to discuss these issues with family. And Ellen Goodman, chair of the Conversation Project, which provides tools for families to talk about these sensitive issues, said of Bush: “It sounds like this forthright, outspoken woman has made her wishes known and the family is standing by her.”

Creating Advance Directives for Healthcare

Under Pennsylvania law, a competent adult has the right to make his/her own health care decisions. That includes the right to reject unwanted medical procedures. You also can name people to make your decisions if you are incapacitated and cannot do so yourself. Creating advance directives for healthcare can give you peace of mind and do the same for your family, making them confident they are doing what you want if they are called on to make decisions on your behalf.

An Advance Directive for Patients with Dementia

Please see an excellent article in The New York Times, on April 30, 2018, entitled, “An Advance Directive for Patients with Dementia” – Getting choices on end-of-life care recorded can help patients feel secure that their wishes will be respected, experts say.

We firmly believe having up-to-date Healthcare Powers of Attorney, including Advance Medical Directives, is an extremely important component to a comprehensive estate plan. Please feel free to forward our Estate Planning Matters newsletter to your valued clients.

Remember: It always seems like it’s too early, until it’s too late.

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