States have historically allowed people to execute “Do Not Resuscitate” orders that, as the name implies, order physicians not to perform any procedures to resuscitate the individual if he or she is not breathing or has gone into cardiac arrest. Oregon, along with a number of other states, goes one step further — and seniors appear to like the move. California has authorized a two-page form called a “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment”, or POLST for short, that allows an individual to make choices ahead of time in the event he or she needs serious, life-sustaining treatment. Although similar to a living will, the POLST form does not designate someone to make decisions for the patient in the event that the patient is unable to do so.
The California form provides the option to make decisions regarding three areas of treatment — Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, Medical Interventions and Artificially Administered Nutrition. The individual executing the form has the option to select a response in each section.
Not surprisingly, the response to the option to complete a POLST form has generally been positive. Many seniors questioned about the form indicate that the ability to complete a POLST form gives them the feeling of control and choice that they have grown accustomed to over a lifetime. Knowing ahead of time that your wishes will be honored, regardless of what those wishes are, when it comes time to die appears to lesson the fear and worry that often accompanies growing old.
However, the POLST form and its implementation have not been without their critics. Critical decisions concerning such important matters as end-of-life care should not be made casually and in isolation from other crucial planning for one’s aging, disability and death. A POLST form is, for most people, not a good substitute for a more comprehensive Advance Health Care Directive.
The best way to tailor a plan for dealing with end-of-life medical decision making is to consult with an experienced and qualified estate and elder care planning attorney who can guide you through the options and give you the peace of mind you seek.