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April 16 proclaimed Healthcare Decisions Day in Wisconsin

MADISON, WI – Gov. Scott Walker has officially proclaimed April 16 as Healthcare Decisions Day in Wisconsin. Healthcare Decisions Day reminds folks to complete an advance directive documenting their preferences about issues surrounding end-of-life decisions.

Under Wisconsin law, competent adults have the right to accept or refuse medical treatment, and the right to be an organ and tissue donor. An estimated 80 percent of Wisconsin residents, including 50 percent of those with severe or terminal illnesses, have not completed an advance directive documenting their preferences about issues surrounding end-of-life decisions.

“Due to accidents or illness, three out of four people will be unable to make some or all of their medical decisions at the end of life,” said Attorney Ben Adams, adviser to the State Bar of Wisconsin Elder Law Section. “If this happens to you, doctors need to know who can make decisions for you.”

Adams said that a medical decision-maker needs to have some idea of who the patient is and what his or her values are in order to make decisions on the patient’s behalf.

“If you haven’t named someone in a healthcare power of attorney document and you become incapacitated or incompetent, then it’s likely that a court proceeding will be needed to appoint a medical decision-maker for you,” Adams said. “But the court process can be avoided in most cases if you do advanced care planning.”

Adams has worked with the State Bar to produce a short video about National Healthcare Decisions Day and the importance of end-of-life planning.

The State Bar has also made its consumer guide, A Gift to Your Family: Planning Ahead for Future Health Needs, available for free downloading for one week, starting on April 15. A Gift to Your Family offers practical insights on a range of issues surrounding end-of-life decisions, such as power of attorney for health care, living wills, and organ and tissue donation. The guide also includes state forms to help people put their wishes in writing.

The 24-page A Gift to Your Family, now in its seventh printing, initially was produced in 2000 through a partnership with the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society, and Gunderson Lutheran Medical Center. In 2006, the State Bar Communications Committee partnered with the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association to make the guide available in Spanish. The State Bar has distributed more than 500,000 print planning guides to hospitals, clinics, lawyers, and the public.