The recent death of former first lady Barbara Bush and the earlier disclosure that she had chosen to no longer seek medical treatment in favor of comfort care raised issues about medical decisions and end-of-life planning.

Active medical treatment of chronic conditions and diseases can involve painful side effects in addition to the effects of the underlying cause. Some diseases and conditions either have no cure or involve a high likelihood that the patient may never experience a full recovery. Full medical treatment may prolong a person’s life, but that person’s quality of life may be significantly limited. Individuals facing this situation still have options available beyond standard medical care.

Palliative Care

Palliative care seeks to ease the symptoms that individuals are experiencing as a result of their conditions or their treatments. The distinguishing aspect of palliative care from standard medical treatment is that palliative treatments do not cure or necessarily affect the underlying medical condition. Palliative care can also involve emotional and spiritual support for patients and their families.

Palliative care also need not be reserved for the final stage of life. Palliative care can be received in addition to standard medical treatment. Palliative care can be received at home, a nursing home, or a hospital. Medicare can cover certain aspects of palliative care.

Hospice Care

Hospice care specifically refers to care received after a patient has decided to no longer seek active medical treatment for their underlying condition. Hospice care is considered a subset of palliative care that seeks to provide physical and emotional support during the final stage of life.

Hospice care is generally fully covered by Medicare or Medicaid as long as a doctor certifies that a patient has less than six months to live if their conditions run their natural course and the patient acknowledges that they are choosing hospice care over medical treatment for the underlying condition. However, this certification can be renewed even if the individual lives past the six months. At all times, the patient can choose to end hospice care and seek full medical treatment.

Health Care Power of Attorney

What to do in the case of a future medical condition is an important, highly personal decision. If a person’s condition affects their mental abilities, there may be a time when an individual is unable to make their own decisions.

A health care power of attorney is a legal document that allows an individual to appoint someone to make medical decisions their behalf if the individual becomes incapacitated. The document can also provide instructions about a person’s beliefs regarding medical care and what to do in certain situations. Because health care powers of attorney involve many considerations beyond naming a representative, health care powers of attorney should only be drafted by an experienced elder law attorney working with a specific client’s needs and choices in mind to make sure that the power of attorney will fit a client’s specific situation.

To develop your own health care power of attorney, please call Martha C. Brown & Associates at (314) 962-0186.