Why End of Life Counseling Is Imperative

09/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Now there is talk about removing the end of life counseling requirement from the health care bill. We all know that idiots like Sarah Palin (who was made to look the fool by that intellectual titan Katie Couric) have contorted this provision into "death panels" or some other such nonsense. The reality is that for loved ones end of life planning makes one of the most difficult times that much easier to deal with.

First let me provide full disclosure. In real life I am a tax attorney, and one of the areas I help clients plan for is their death. An estate plan has to include the possibility of living wills. These are documents that allow family members to terminate life support in the event a person is in a medical situation they will not survive. The typical situation is someone has a massive medical event which puts them in a coma from which they will not regain consciousness.

When discussing this option with clients, I never -- repeat NEVER -- tell them what to do. This is one of the most important decisions they will make. And I do not know any professional who directs clients in one direction or the other. All we do is present the options That's it. No one says, "You're old. It's time to die." Clients must consult their conscience, their beliefs and their family regarding what they want to do. All I do (and all professionals do) is explain what the option involves and what it means. That's it.

What I can tell you is the vast majority of people choose to have a living will. Why? I am sure there are plenty of reasons. However, I think the primary reason is this: I don't know many people who think lying in a bed on life support is an actual life. Technically your body is working, but you're not involved or engaged with the world. In short, you have no quality of life.

Now for a personal story. My mother died a little over two years ago and she had a living will. Mom was less than subtle and she grew less and less subtle the older she got. She always told us she did not want to be kept on life support should that happen. When her estate attorney wrote her will, she made sure it was a living will. She was in intensive care the last few weeks of her life. The first time I saw her during those two weeks -- on life support, surrounded by machines -- all I could think was that if she could see herself she would have said, "Turn off those machines NOW." In short, her planning made an incredibly difficult time that much easier to deal with.

All of this noise about this issue is just that -- noise. Instead of helping families plan for one of the most difficult times in their lives we are getting fear mongering and stupidity. And it's a shame because we should be talking about real issues instead of refuting these ridicules allegations from the right wing noise machine.