Far too often, patients in care facilities do not receive the type of end-of-life care that they really want. The problem is not merely that so many patients have waited until they have serious health issues before seeking to give voice to their preferences regarding medical treatment. That delay in elder law planning is indeed a problem -but so is the lack of a format for expressing end-of-life care preferences in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities.

To address these issues, a committee of Massachusetts medical and public policy leaders recently recommended the use of a new form for patients in care facilities. The committee calls this form Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment.

The form is two pages long and is laid out in a check-box format. The check boxes are designed to address contingencies. For example, if someone does not want to be connected to a breathing machine, they would not check the box corresponding to that intervention.

The new suggested form differs from the well-established Do Not Resuscitate form. The DNR form was designed mainly for use by EMTs and other emergency first-responders. By contrast, the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form is intended to be used by all types of medical providers. It therefore allows patients to express preferences on many different treatment possibilities.

Of course, stating a preference is one thing and making sure it is honored is another. That is why the new form has a section where a medical care provider can sign. In this context, the signature signifies that the providers and the patient discussed the patient’s preferences.

The new form is being piloted in a program in the Worcester area. If you have questions about its application to your situation, contact an estate planning attorney at our firm.

Source: “End-of-life wishes unheeded, panel says in call for patient reforms,” Boston.com, 4-14-11