May 13, 2004
If you become too sick or too injured to speak for yourself, a new Arizona law makes it easier for your family and health care providers to understand just what you’d want them to do.
Gov. Janet Napolitano signed legislation Tuesday to create a registry within the Secretary of State’s Office, where people can file a living will and power of attorney, designating who will make decisions if they become incapacitated.
Sometimes advance health care directives are created, but not immediately accessible to family members and doctors grappling with how to care for a patient. The database, only the second of its kind in the country, will be available to health care providers around the state.
"This is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family," said Dr. Gillian Hamilton, medical director for Hospice of the Valley. "We just see it over and over again. . . . Not talking to your family leaves them so full of guilt and conflict, no matter what decision they make."
Robert B. Morehouse and his wife have spared their children the pain of wondering what they would have wanted. The retired teachers completed living wills 10 years ago, then updated them last year.
"There’s no question whatsoever," said Morehouse, a retired teacher with the Paradise Valley Unified School District and member of the Silver Haired Legislature. "They don’t have to argue back and forth."
Morehouse and his wife, who taught in the Tempe Elementary School District, have given copies of their advance medical directives to their doctors, two hospitals and their children.
They plan to file copies with the Secretary of State’s Office once the registry is up and running.
"I urge everybody to not only get the living will and power of attorney, but to let their kids know they have it," he said.
It will be several months before the registry begins accepting directives. Once it does, copies of the documents can be sent to the Secretary of State’s Office by mail or hand delivered.
Then participants will be contacted and asked to double-check the information to ensure that it’s accurate.
"Obviously, this is life and death. So it has to be right," Hamilton said.
Participants must confirm that the information is accurate before it can be stored in the registry. Each person will have a password, and no one can access the information without it. Participants can change the directive at any time by filing a new one. The directive with the most recent date is the one that will be followed.
Hamilton said people of all ages should complete advance directives.
"It doesn’t matter what your decision is," Hamilton said. "It matters that you write it down."
Only North Carolina has a similar registry.
The new Arizona registry is paid for through community foundations, health care organizations and other donors to Hospice of the Valley, which also will raise the $30,000 a year it will take to keep the database current. The hospice agreed this week to launch a public education campaign about the registry.
The advance directives database was among dozens of recommendations that came out of last summer’s Town Hall on aging issues.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Deb Gullett, R-Phoenix, said the those recommendations, support from health care groups and the work done by Secretary of State Jan Brewer made it easy to get the legislation passed.
"It just makes so much sense, not to suffer yourself or put your family through that," Gullett said.
For information: 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.