Medical Studies

Advanced Directives in Wisconsin

CBS discusses the use of advanced directives in Wisconsin.

La Crosse, Wis., is a lively Mississippi River town that talks a lot about death.

We came to La Crosse because, at last count, 96 percent of the people who passed away here had created advance directives. That’s the highest percentage of end-of-life planning in a nation where only about 30 percent of all adults have such a document

What is an advanced directive? The Mayo Clinic website describes them as follows:

Advance directives are written instructions regarding your medical care preferences. Your family and doctors will consult your advance directives if you’re unable to make your own health care decisions. Having written instructions can help reduce confusion or disagreement.

What is the difference between a living will and an advanced directive? Notes that living will’s are a specific type of advanced directive that spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures a patient does or does not want. Other types of advanced directives include: Medical or health care power of attorney (POA), which designates an individual to make medical decisions for you in the event that you’re unable to do so, and do not resuscitate (DNR) order, where the patient requests not have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if their heart stops or if they stop breathing. Advanced directives need not include a POA or DNR.

Why are LaCrosse residents more likely to have advanced directives? Part of the reason is that Bud Hammes, a medical ethicist at the Gundersen Health System in LaCrosse, started a program called “Respecting Choices” 20 years ago, after seeing firsthand what death was like without it.

Why are advanced directives useful? In Hammes own words:

The ultimate content of this conversation, I think, isn’t about death. I think the ultimate topic that’s being discussed is how people care for each other. And so what comes out at the end of the conversation is, ‘I love you, and I now know how to take good care of you.’

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