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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oregon Emphasizes Choices At Life's End

By Kristian Foden-Vencil
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Originally published March 8, 2012

Terri Schmidt, an emergency room doctor at Oregon Health and Science University, can't forget the day an elderly man with congestive heart failure came into the hospital from a nursing home.

The man hadn't filled in a medical directive form, so, by law, Schmidt had to provide all the medical care possible.

"I intubated the man. I did very aggressive things. It didn't feel right at the time," says Schmidt. "There was just this sense in my mind that this is a 92-year-old very elderly person with bad heart failure. And about 15 minutes later, when I was able to get ahold of the family.  They said, 'You did what?  We talked about this! He didn't want it. We had a big conversation in his room about a week ago.'"

Oregon has been in the forefront of trying to make sure a person has as much control over the end of his or her life as possible. The state pioneered a form known as a POLST, for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, that has been adopted by 14 states and is being considered in 20 more. The form offers many more detailed options than a simple "do not resuscitate" directive.  

That's good for Helen Hobbs, who is 93 and lives in an assisted living facility in Lake Oswego. Age has bent Hobbs low and she uses a walker, but she is very clear-headed on this topic.

"You know, death is part of your life. You know you're going to get there someday so let's make it as pleasant as possible," Hobbs said. "I mean, would you like to stay in an unconscious condition for years while people kept you alive with feeding and hydration tubes? No."

Hobbs outlined her end-of-life medical decisions a couple of years ago, after a serious surgery. She used Oregon’s form. It is signed by her doctor, so it's legally enforceable.