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Living wills move to forefront

John Lutgring is not afraid to talk about dying.As a licensed clinical social worker for the acute rehabilitation unit at Valley View Hospital, Lutgring speaks with families about how their loved ones are treated when they become seriously ill.”I try to focus in on what the patient wants and try to give them their dying wish,” said Lutgring, who splits his time between the hospital and Roaring Fork Hospice. “When we talk about dying, we’re not taking away someone’s hope. To truly honor somebody is to listen compassionately to what they want.”The March 18 removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and her controversial death Thursday in Florida has prompted many Americans to re-examine the need for living will and power of attorney documents. Schiavo lived in a vegetative state after collapsing 15 years ago and was the center of legal battles between her parents and her husband, Michael.”I think the Schiavo case is bringing in heightened awareness of end-of-life issues,” said Katie Hays, an attorney from the Thomas D. Silverman law offices in Glenwood Springs, who specializes in wills and estate planning. “Planning is important for people of all ages. It’s not the most pleasant thing to do, but it is comforting for you and your family once it’s done.”Lutgring said the Schiavo controversy has motivated many people to download Aging with Dignity’s Five Wishes document from its Web site.”This is bringing about a scared-straight phenomenon,” he said.According to the nonprofit organization, nearly 4 million copies of Five Wishes are circulating nationwide. The document meets legal requirements in Colorado and 35 other states, along with the District of Columbia.”It’s a combination living will and medical power of attorney,” Lutgring said. “Five Wishes is a great working conversation that sort of bypasses all the legal mumbo jumbo in most documents.”A living will indicates the type of care and degree of medical intervention a person desires as a result of a life-threatening medical condition. A power of attorney authorizes a person to act on one’s behalf and may restrict intervention and limit time periods of life-support treatment.”Power of attorney is only effective during a person’s lifetime so it becomes ineffective at death,” Hays said. “The main decision needs to be who do they want to choose to make decisions for them when they aren’t able to. That’s the far-reaching question.”Tim Heflin, director of Roaring Fork Hospice, said he has seen several worst-case living will and power-of-attorney scenarios involving patients.”Quite often patients are referred to us who have no legal documents or no medical power of attorney,” he said. “There are many situations where there are so many different family members all over the country who are thrown into crisis mode. They must develop a course of action and a plan of care.”Lutgring said the best solution is for families to sit down and talk.”With open communication I don’t think we can fail by doing this,” he said. “People need to get behind the discussion of talking about end of life.”He said in the Schiavo case, shame and blame took precedence over the one person in the center of it all.”The sad part of it all is that the patient got lost in all of this,” Lutgring said. “She was last on the priority list.”Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. 518aclark@postindependent.com


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