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Ending must-revive mandate a positive move for families

Another opinion

December 22, 2013
The Traverse City Record-Eagle

It has taken us a long time as a society to get to the point where we trust adults to make their own decisions about the end of their lives.

The practice of individuals making out living wills or creating "do not resuscitate" orders is relatively new.

Without such directions, those in the medical profession have acted on the premise that they should - and under the very real threat of lawsuits, must - do whatever it takes to revive someone who has suffered a heart attack or stroke, no matter what the person having that heart attack thought about the matter.

Until that law was recently amended, in fact, adult foster care and group home staff in Michigan were obligated to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation if they found a non-hospice patient with no pulse or respiration, even patients who had signed a "do not resuscitate" order.

The origins of the old law make sense. June Harmsen, who manages Orchard Creek Senior Living and Healthcare's supportive care unit, said the law dates to 1979, when state hospitals for the mentally ill were closing and many patients went to group or adult foster care homes.

Lawmakers believed AFC staff lacked the medical expertise to make life-and-death decisions. "They didn't know if (staff) could tell if someone was really dead or not, especially someone on drugs with really shallow breathing," she said. So CPR became mandatory.

An amendment to the Do Not Resuscitate Procedure Act and the Estates and Protected Individuals Code that lifts the mandate to resuscitate was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder Nov. 5 and takes effect Feb. 5.

While the aim of the law is to honor the wishes of a patient who has signed a "do not resuscitate" order, witnessed by his or her family and signed by a physician, nursing home employees will also benefit.

Harmsen said staff members will no longer have the "trauma" of "doing CPR on someone they know doesn't want to be revived."

That must-revive dictate didn't apply to patients in end-of-life hospice care, in which the top priority is making a patient comfortable in his or her last days, and following their expressed wishes about CPR or other life-saving procedures.

This is common-sense law that respects individuals and the choices they have made with a clear mind and in the presence of loved ones.

Heroic measures to give terminal patients a few more days of life, sometimes involving both physical and emotional pain, no longer have to be the norm.

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