April 15, 2008

Whitehouse: Rhode Islanders Should Take Time to Talk with Family About End-of-Life Medical Decisions

Tomorrow, April 16, is National Health Care Decisions Day

Washington, D.C. – Rhode Islanders should set aside time to talk with their families about how they wish to be cared for at the end of life, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said today. Whitehouse cosponsored a bipartisan resolution (S.J. Res. 29) supporting the goals and ideals of National Health Care Decisions Day, which will be recognized for the first time on April 16, 2008.

“End-of-life medical decisions are undoubtedly among the most challenging subjects a family will ever address – but they are also among the most important,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Aging Committee. “Communicating decisions regarding end-of-life care through an advance directive empowers patients and can help give families peace of mind in difficult times.”

While a greater number of Americans have executed advanced directives in recent years, more can still be done to raise awareness about the need to plan for end-of-life health care decisions. Only 29 percent of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2005 said they had a living will, compared to 12 percent in 1990. A 2003 study by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that less than 50 percent of the severely or terminally ill patients included in the study had an advanced directive. Between 65 to 76 percent of physicians caring for individuals who had advanced directives were unaware that their patients had executed such a directive, according to AHRQ.

The Senate passed S.J. Res. 29, which encourages all Americans to prepare advanced directives, on April 3. The initiative has earned the support of a wide range of health care and advocacy organizations, including the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the American Hospital Association, AARP, and the American Bar Association.

Rhode Island state law recognizes two types of advance directives: a durable power of attorney for health care, which permits a competent adult 18 years of age or older to designate someone to make decisions about his or her treatment if he or she becomes incapacitated; and a living will, which conveys an individual’s wish that health care providers withhold or withdraw life support that would only prolong dying. These forms are available on the web site of Attorney General Patrick Lynch at http://www.riag.ri.gov/civilcriminal/endoflife.php.


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