Schiavo case has Americans talking about healthcare - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Schiavo case has Americans talking about healthcare

Albany-- Georgia has several laws that protect patients' rights, but health care advocates and professionals say they don't go far enough.

Professionals say it starts with a conversation. Letting loved ones know how you want your healthcare treatment carried out, but it should end with a legal document, that unlike in Terri Shiavo's case, leaves no room for interpretation.

Federal law gives all patients the right to refuse treatment, but in Georgia there is also a Medical Consent Law. "It sort of the fall back law. It gives family members and it just family members the right to make medical and surgical decisions for loved ones, if that loved one cannot do it," said Karen Wakeford of Georgia Health Decisions.

But that law is restricted to certain procedures and surgeries and it includes a specific the hierarchy of who can advocate for you. "So, the safest way to get your wishes carried out is to appoint somebody in Georgia it's called an agent, in other states it's referred to as a proxy," Wakeford said.

Georgia Health Decisions, a non-profit organization that has designed a planning guide for final health care decisions. Wakeford says the Critical Conditions Planning Guide helps Georgians do three things. "One, to start a family conversation. A conversation, not just a don't ever let that happen to me comment, but a real conversation about the kind of healthcare I would want if I were too ill to give the directions for myself."

Secondly, it gives them a worksheet about how to write down plans and what they should consider. Lastly, it includes a directive for final health. It's a document that combines a living will, which explains how you want your medical care carried out, and a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a document that designates someone a your agent.

"That document is one that all healthcare institutions, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and so forth are required to observe," said Wakeford. "It's a surefire definite, legal way to take care of oneself."

And a way to save your family from turmoil and debate about what's best for you.

"Everybody who is in the argument passionately, and sincerely feels that they know what's best for this person they love, and actually the only person whose opinion matters is the person who's ill. The only time you and I can make that clear is now while we're healthy," Wakeford said.

Wakeford also reminds you to review and update any and all legal documents from time to time.

You should also remember that each state has different laws, and even if you get ill in another state and have a directive for final health, states are only required to honor them up to the point where they conflict with their state laws.

There is no cost to file a directive for final health. It doesn't have to be filed in court and doesn't require notarization.

More information is available at both Albany hospitals, and at www.critical-conditions.org .

posted by dave.miller@walb.com