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Does Louisiana have death panels?

Let’s ask Fred Sanford (not his real name.) Fred had a heart attack three years ago. They rushed him to the hospital and found that he wasn’t getting enough blood flow to his brain. So the doctors performed brain surgery. Which didn’t go so well. Fred ended up in a coma, hooked up to a bunch of machines that were keeping him alive. And he stayed in the hospital, comatose, for 3 years.

At which point, his doctors thought it was time to pull the plug. But that was not OK with Fred’s son, Lamont. Lamont thought that his Dad was slowly recovering. But the doctors insisted that they were going to remove Fred from the life support machines despite Lamont’s wishes.

Does that sound legal to you?

Although I’ve changed the names, something like this really happened recently. But it didn’t happen here in America. It happened in Canada. Lamont took the doctors to court and the Canadian Judge said that Fred’s doctors could not override his son’s wishes. But a death panel could!

That’s because parts of Canada have a death panel law. The law says that if a patient’s family refuses to consent to a medical decision, then the doctors can convene a “Consent and Capacity Board.” And if the Board decides that what the doctors are recommending is in the patient’s best interest, then the Board has the legal authority to consent on the patient’s behalf. Regardless of the family’s wishes! So if Fred’s doctors convene a “Consent and Capacity Board,” then, according to the Canadian Judge, the Board could order Fred removed from the life support machines despite Lamont’s objections.

And our neighbors to the north aren’t alone. When it comes to killing, don’t mess with Texas. In Texas, if Fred’s doctors thought his continued life-sustaining treatment was “inappropriate,” then they could call for a hospital ethics committee meeting. And if the committee says it would be inappropriate to continue treatment, then the physicians must make a reasonable attempt to transfer the patient to another facility that is willing to comply with Lamont’s wishes that his father stay on the machines. But if the patient is not transferred within 10 days, the Texas law authorizes the termination of treatment.

The rest of America doesn’t have a similar law. Obamacare does have a section that some people said could lead to death panels her in America, but all that section of Obamacare says is that Medicare will pay for some end of life planning counseling sessions with a health care practitioner. What’s that mean? If a Medicare patient has questions about “the continuum of end of life services and supports available,” then Medicare will pay the Doctor for the time he takes to answer the patient’s questions. It is then up to the patient, and only the patient, to decide under what conditions he or she would want care withheld.

And then there’s Louisiana, which like most sates, allows you, and only you to decide your end-of-life care. Such a document is called a living will.

But we do have one law that says if you don’t have a good estate plan, then you could end up with a permanent artificial feeding tube rammed down your throat even if you have filled out hospital paperwork saying that you do not want to be hooked up to artificial nutrition or hydration machines.

Hard to believe, right? But Louisiana law has created something called a Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment, or POST. It’s a voluntary form that, among other things, allows you say what type of healthcare treatment you would want if you were dying and unable to express your wishes. And the form has a specific section that allows you to state whether you would want artificial nutrition or hydration by invasive means. But here’s what the law says: if you fill out one of these Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment forms, then “even if a patient chooses ‘no artificial nutrition by tube’ or ‘no IV fluids’ or ‘trial period of artificial nutrition by tube,’ the administration of nutrition and hydration, whether orally or by invasive means, shall always occur except in the event another condition arises with is life limiting and irreversible in which nutrition and hydration by any means becomes a greater burden than benefit to Patient.”

Sound like a death panel to you?

Regardless, if you plan in advance, it is possible to ensure that your wishes are followed. Talk to us about how you can assure that your desires about end-of-life care are carried out.

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