'Five Wishes' bill means changes for living wills

Health Care Directives Act in effect in January

Posted: Monday, October 25, 2004

Mary Jensen has seen many deaths in her life. She works as a certified nurse assistant at nursing homes and private care. She has lost three close family members to death - her ex-husband and her current husband's parents. Her father is dying right now.

The 43-year-old doesn't shy away from talking about death, and she is very specific about what kinds of health care she would want if she were dying. She wants only two pillows beneath her head. She wants to partially sit up in bed instead of lying down. She doesn't want to have her life prolonged if she needs to be put on a ventilator.

"I want IV water so the pain medication can distribute more easily in my body," Jensen said.

All of these directives are detailed in her living will. But when the "Health Care Directives Act" takes effect next January, Jensen will need to discard her old living will and list her wishes in a new living will.

The "Health Care Directives Act," also known as the "Five Wishes bill," covers such end-of-life issues as mental health treatment, organ donation, durable power of attorney and do-not-resuscitate laws.

The act was introduced by Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau. He will talk about the document at 11:30 a.m. today at the Juneau Senior Center, 895 W. 12th St.

The document is based on a national movement to encourage people of all ages to prepare a living will and let their family and health care professionals know:

• who will make health care decisions for you;

• what kind of medical treatment you will receive;

• how comfortable you want to be;

• how you want to be treated;

• and what you want your loved ones to know.

Carole Edwards, a former Bartlett Regional Hospital nurse, urges people to talk to their physicians and write down their wishes. She travels with a copy of her living will in her suitcase.

"I have seen many good deaths and bad deaths," said Edwards, who helped push the passage of the act. "It's hard work to die. Their organs gradually shut down. Then their emotions shut down. Their world is closing down. The last thing you want when you are dying is seeing your family members argue what kind of treatment you want."

Beth Chapman, an attorney with Faulkner-Banfield, said people should give a copy of the will to their physicians.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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