Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Should You Have a Living Will?

There's a fantastic post at GeriPal about the efficacy of the Living Will and Advance Directive documents that many end of life rights advocates -- including myself -- have promoted. What the articles does well is look at a number of current studies and articles and address points made by prominent activists. It asks us what the best way is for a patient to protect their rights at the end of life. Sadly, there is no foolproof way to ensure that the medical decisions made for you will be consistent with what you want. I recommend you read the entire post, but here's a clip:

“Enough. The living will has failed, and it is time to say so.” So said Angela Fagerlin and Carl Schneider in 2004. “Living wills are still widely and confidently urged on patients, and they retain the allegiance of many. For these loyal advocates, we offer systematic proof that such persistence in error is but the triumph of dogma over inquiry and hope over experience.” Joann Lynn wrote an essay titled Why I Don’t Have a Living Will, saying, “I do not have a living will because I fear that the effects of having one would be worse, in my situation, than not having one. How could this be? A living will of the standard format attends to priorities that are not my own, addresses procedures rather than outcomes, and requires substantial interpretation without guaranteeing a reliable interpreter.” Thomas Pendergast said, “[Since the passage of the Patient Self Determination Act in 1990] advance directives are recorded by medical personnel more often but are not completed by patients more frequently. The process of recording them does not enhance patient-physician communication. When available, advance directives do not change care or reduce hospital resources. The most ambitious study of advance care planning, the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments [SUPPORT], failed to show any change in outcomes after an extensive intervention.” Prominent figures in palliative care decried persistent research and health policy efforts to promote living wills, saying, “when have living wills ever been shown to do anything???!!!”

And yet, after being thrashed to within an inch of death, two recent studies breathed life into advance directives. Before getting into the particulars of these studies, it’s important to understand how and why we came to have advance directives in the first place.

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