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Several years ago, North Dakotans launched an effort called "Matters of Life & Death" to encourage everyone to talk about our wishes for health care when unable to make or communicate decisions for ourselves. Since that time, the Terri Schiavo story has taught us how important it is for everyone - whatever their age - to make their wishes known in advance. There were no winners in the long and tragic legal battle involving Terri Schiavo. But her case can impact each of us for the better by spurring us into action to avoid similar scenarios in our own families.
Talking about our wishes for health care if we are unable to do so for ourselves is not just for "older" people or someone who is near death. Terri Schiavo was a young woman in seemingly good health. And, you may not be near the end of your life when you need someone to speak for you. Critical accidents or severe strokes, as examples, may diminish your ability to make or communicate decisions, even temporarily. Do your wishes in these situations differ from what your wishes might be if you were near death? Will a loved one or a health care agent you appoint be able to express your personal wishes?
Regardless of your age or health status, take the time now to think about and decide what kind of care you want in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Don't be afraid to talk frankly with your spouse, family, clergy and doctor about your preferences. Remember, not talking can result in difficult challenges for those left to make decisions on your behalf.
Consider naming a health care agent - a person you name and trust who will make decisions for you if you cannot. Take time to fill out a health care directive document and consider all the possibilities or situations in which you may not be able to speak for yourself, even temporarily. Now is the time to make your wishes known and complete a health care directive. Consider it a gift to yourself as well as your loved ones.
Led by the North Dakota Medical Association, the Matters of Life and Death Project involved a variety of organizations and individuals in North Dakota that made a concerted effort from 1999 to 2003 to improve end-of-life care in North Dakota. The organizations listed below, among others, were involved in this effort.
Association of Hospital Chaplains
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota
Dakota Medical Foundation
Guardian and Protective Services, Inc.
Hospice of the Red River Valley
Mental Health Association of North Dakota
National Association of Social Workers, ND Chapter
North Dakota Association for Home Care
North Dakota Association of County Social Workers
North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners
North Dakota Board of Pharmacy
North Dakota Catholic Conference
North Dakota Conference of Churches
North Dakota Department of Human Services
North Dakota Extension Service
North Dakota Health Care Review, Inc.
North Dakota Health Department
North Dakota Healthcare Association
North Dakota Hospice Organization
North Dakota Insurance Department
North Dakota Long Term Care Association
North Dakota Long Term Care Ombudsman
North Dakota Medical Association
North Dakota Newspaper Association
North Dakota Nurses Association
North Dakota Nursing Programs
North Dakota Office of Attorney General
North Dakota Pharmacists' Association
North Dakota Right to Life
State Bar Association of North Dakota
The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society
UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences
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