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Shortland Street educates on advance directives

23 Jun 2023 12:32 PM | EOLC Admin (Administrator)

Source: Gisborne Herald

The Shortland Street episode of June 21 portrays a scenario where an unconscious man on life support has written an advance directive rejecting precisely such support in that situation. His loving wife, believing she is doing the right thing, argues with the doctor against his advance directive: she’s going to stand by her man and fight for life preservation. She wants treatment, treatment, treatment — all in contravention of his wishes. An ever-tearful niece changes her mind from respecting her uncle’s wishes to supporting her aunt’s polemic. The doctor initially argues that the advance directive is paramount, then admits that he also doesn’t want to lose his dear friend, the patient, and appears to teeter between duty and self-indulgence. Tears all round.

Then comes the phone call from the lawyer. The advance directive is indeed legally paramount. Why? Because it is the person speaking for himself: in “advance” of the situation, he is giving his “directive” (instructions). He does not want efforts to prolong his life in such a situation.

Promos indicate that the June 22 episode will be the final farewells to the patient as the doctor switches off life support and the patient gets what he wanted: an end to torture. More tears, surely.

If you think this drama could only happen in a soapie, think again. Intensive care doctors tell us over and over again that families are the primary cause of suffering imposed on loved ones in situations where there is no prospect of a return to any kind of quality of life. It’s the families who demand that doctors do everything to “save” them, even against medical explanation that further treatment is likely to cause great suffering and nevertheless end in the kind of death no one would want.

How to avoid? Make an advance directive.

I have a vested interest in telling you this story. I’m a member of the End-of-Life Choice Society NZ. The society has excellent information about advance directives. Download a free copy of their “Guide to Dying Your Way” booklet with the form at the end of the 20-page document. Read the booklet’s advice, print out the form, complete it in the way that’s right for you, follow the recommendations for ultimate protection. The form describes the terms and conditions under which the advance directive would come into effect.

To ensure your wishes are respected, sign the form in front of an independent witness, preferably your doctor. Get your doctor to sign in the witness panel and apply their provider stamp to the document. This tells any other doctor treating you in an emergency situation that your advance directive has been sighted by a medical professional. Ask your doctor to scan a copy of your advance directive to your primary health care file and also to send a copy to your local hospital network. An alternative is to get your advance directive witnessed by a nurse practitioner or JP.

If Shortland Street is the best way to inform people of their options and self-protections under medical health law, then I’m quite suddenly a fan of Shortland Street.

■  Ann David is president of the End-of-Life Choice Society NZ. She lives in Waikanae.

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