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'End of life' discussions are necessary

Posted: August 15, 2009 9:39 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
In life we celebrate our birthday once a year, strive for an education and career, find the love of our life and have a family, reluctantly pay our yearly taxes and set a time for our retirement to enjoy the "golden years."

Why is it, though, that we neglect to plan for our inevitable "end of life?"

As a geriatric physician, I found that your article "Health care rumors unfounded" (The Signal, Aug. 9), exposed the fear and trepidation our seniors face daily.

With the open debate over new health care laws, politicians and special interests have jump-started the rumor mills to generate support for their argument.

No one in our society would ever support "death panels," rationed Medicare or questions of "Where do you want to die?" These scare tactics are baseless and misrepresent the ongoing debate.

I've been involved in "end of life" discussions with my patients for decades. Aging brings on physical and mental changes like not being able to drive, decrease in mobility, catastrophic illness or injury, loss of spouse or siblings and progressive memory loss.

As seniors sense these changes, they responsibly plan where they will live, how they are taken care of and how their assets are managed by themselves and family.

As a physician, I ask and demand of my patients their need to have advanced directives, living wills, power of attorney, awareness of do not resuscitate orders and knowledge of hospice care. This is my responsibility as an internist and primary care physician.

Whether you are covered by Medicare, an HMO, have private insurance or receive care from the Veterans Administration, it is the responsibility of your doctor, and yourself, to frankly discuss these issues.

It is only human nature to fear death, but as we celebrate life, communicating and planning "end of life" care with your doctor is important and responsible in ameliorating that fear.

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