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"POLST" sparks fierce debate about end of life decisions

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Health graphic
Health graphic

MILWAUKEE (WTAQ) - A new pilot program that encourages Wisconsinites to spell out their wishes for end of life care does not include a key document that spells out a dying person’s desire for treatment – or lack thereof.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says there’s been a fierce debate involving what’s known as “POLST” – Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment.

It’s a sort of living will, an easy to reach document which tells caregivers and health care providers what to do – or not do – for a dying patient in accordance with the person’s wishes.

The issue is becoming more prevalent, as more Baby Boomers become seniors.

POLST was developed in Oregon in the 1990’s, after a number of patients who wrote living wills and shelved them away had their wishes ignored. The Wisconsin Medical Society decided against including the document in its pilot program to encourage advanced directives.

Supporters say it keeps the patient in control at the time the person needs help the most. But Catholic bishops and some doctors believe they can be abused, to the point in which euthanasia becomes more common.

Tim Bartholomew, the society’s chief medical officer, says the POLST document is a “lightning rod” for now. But he believes a consensus on using it could come in the next 3 to 4 years.

The documents are medical orders signed by doctors – and they’re intended for those with less than a year to live in which some treatments might pose a burden. They let patients make preferences for things like resuscitation and feeding tubes.

Some doctors say the documents are not always in line with a particular emergency. Bishops say patients are better off designating others who have a health care “power of attorney” status. 

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