A new database in the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office is a matter of life and death.
Arizona this week launched the nation’s first free advance directives registry online, giving people the opportunity to file documents that make clear what kind of health care they want — or don’t want — if they become too sick or injured to speak for themselves.
"It’s a sense of comfort that the family has, when they can look at that paper and read your writing and know that it’s what you really would want," said Barbara Volk-Craft of Hospice of the Valley. "And they can honor those choices."
Even when people complete advance directives detailing their wishes about end-of-life care, the document may not be readily available to family members or doctors.
The online registry is immediately accessible to hospitals and doctors throughout the state, provided they have the patient’s password. About 15 people have signed up so far this week.
To get on the registry, individuals need to complete an advance directive and a registry application, then mail or hand deliver the documents to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The office will scan the directive into the database, then return the original with a verification form to doublecheck the information.
The advance directive will not go onto the registry unless the verification form is completed and returned to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Registered individuals will receive a wallet card with their name and password, and only those with the password can access the advance directive online.
Retired East Valley teachers Robert B. Morehouse and his wife have told their children and doctors how they wish to be cared for if they can’t make those choices themselves, and they’ve put it in writing. They’ve distributed advance directives to all the right people, and now plan to be among the first to have the documents in the database as backup.
"As soon as I can get the papers, the wife and I will have ours in there," said Morehouse, 74, a member of the Silver Haired Legislature.
"With our directives, the kids know what we want," he said. "I’m not going to have to worry about living on artificial means for years."
That may save his five children additional anguish during an already difficult time.
"It’s not for us as much as it’s for the family," said Volk-Craft, whose Health Care Decisions team has made presentations on advance directives to some 50,000 people statewide. "It’s a time when you can give the most to your family by giving them some guidance."
Advance directives are more specific than living wills, which typically are used in cases of terminal illness. They can run the gamut from requesting all means necessary to keep someone alive, to withholding such things as ventilators and feeding tubes that would prolong life.
"This is really a strong way for individuals in the community to exercise our voices," Volk-Craft said. "It’s getting individual choices honored, not prescribing what those choices are."
The hospice organization teamed with the Secretary of State’s Office to push legislation last year creating the registry.
It’s funded through community foundations, health care organizations and other donors to Hospice of the Valley. Only North Carolina has a similar database, and there is a fee to use it.
The registry was among dozens of recommendations that came out of a May 2003 Town Hall on aging.
"It’s nice to see it come into fruition," said William Arnold, director of the gerontology program at Arizona State University and a Town Hall participant. "I think it should be publicized widely and available to everyone."
What to do: Advance directives can be in any form, but applications can be found at www.hcdecisions.org or by calling (602) 222-2229. Other forms and information can be found on the Arizona Attorney General’s Office Web site —
www.ag.state.az.us/seniors/ index.html — or by calling (602) 542-2124.
Application: To get a free application for the advance directives registry, call the Secretary of State’s Office at (602) 542-4285 or visit