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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Dying in America: Can we talk?

No state does a better-than-mediocre job in providing end-of-life care for residents, says a report. Last Acts, a campaign to improve end-of-life care, generated the yearlong evaluation (www.lastacts.org). About 14 percent of states offer palliative care (relieves symptons and provides emotional support to patients and their families), 23 percent provide hospice care and 42 percent have pain management services, the report says.

Although availability of such programs is increasing, reimbursement issues continue to be a challenge. Hospice care is generally considered one of the best options, but only 12 percent to 25 percent of deaths include inpatient hospice stay, the report says.

Twenty states recommend that people draw up a living will and/or medical power of attorney, the report says. For information on living wills, contact Aging With Dignity, Box 1661, Tallahassee, FL 32302 or www.agingwithdignity.org; www.partnershipforcaring.org; or check with your physician.

"It's important to be able to communicate your wishes with those you love and with those who will care for you at the end of life," says Gordon Putnam, an ELCA pastor and chaplain at Community Memorial Hospital, Menomonee Falls, Wis. Putnam says neither the religious nor medical community wants to talk about death and dying.

His goal is "to make it safe for people to have these conversations."

He says end-of-life care won't improve until people can discuss it and demand better care. To that end, he's promoting Compassion Sabbath on Feb. 7-9 in the Greater Milwaukee Synod to help the religious community "intentionally talk about death, dying and the seriously ill."

Another ELCA pastor and the chaplain of Rainbow Hospice, Park Ridge, Ill., John Schumacher agrees that people need to talk more openly. "We need education and advocacy," he says. "Congregations can have someone in to talk about hospice, advance directives or funeral planning. And we need to advocate for improved funding and access."


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