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Healthcare Decisions Day: Time for Utahns to Examine End-of-Life Issues

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Friday, April 15, 2022   

Saturday is National Health Care Decisions Day, a reminder Utahns and others should have plans in place in case they need medical attention and are unable to state their wishes.

Kim Callinan, president and CEO of Compassion & Choices, which advocates for medical aid in dying for people with terminal illnesses, said medical directives for end-of-life care are not only important for the person, but for their family.

"One in two seniors now die with or from dementia, and unfortunately, most are not planning for what the end might look like," Callinan pointed out. "Without planning, you're leaving your loved ones and caregivers having to make just heart-wrenching decisions."

Recent polling showed a majority of Utahns support legislation to legalize medical aid in dying, but state lawmakers rejected the measure once again this year. Its backers say there was good support for the measure until 2016, when leaders of the Latter-day Saints church urged their members to oppose the practice.

Utah is among the top 10 states for Alzheimer's deaths, and of the estimated 6.2 million Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer's disease, more than half are women. Women also are more likely to have other forms of dementia.

Callinan noted advances in medicine have prolonged life for many people, but in some cases, it can also lead to years of suffering.

"With planning, you're able to disrupt the system and have a much more compassionate end," Callinan explained. "Without planning, you're subjected to a health care system that is going to focus on prolonging life, which in the case of someone with advanced dementia, often prolongs suffering."

Callinan acknowledged it is not easy to have such conversations with loved ones, but there are resources available to help.

"For National Health Care Decisions Day, I would encourage everyone to have conversations with their loved ones about the care that you would want at the end of life," Callinan urged. "And in particular, use our Dementia Values and Priorities Tool, so that you can document your care preferences to safeguard your future."

Disclosure: Compassion & Choices contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Health Issues, Senior Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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