Four million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease may lose the ability to control their medical treatment if they do not spell out their wishes in advance, the Alzheimer's Association told the Senate Finance Committee.
Testifying in support of legislation to encourage the use of living wills and durable powers of attorney (S. 1766), Kitty Allen described what she called "a typical story" of a family caring for a loved one in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. Allen is co-chair of the Association's national Public Policy Committee. She is also President of the Greater Houston Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and Vice-Chair of the Texas Council on Alzheimer's Disease.
Allen described her mother-in-law, an Alzheimer patient who has been kept "alive but not living" since doctors inserted a feeding tube 6 years ago.
"One of the crudest ironies of Alzheimer's is that the body often remains physically healthy long after the person inside has disappeared," Allen told the Committee. "Death is inevitable, but by the time the patient reaches the stage where decisions have to be made about life-sustaining treatment, he or she is no longer capable of participating in those decisions."
Allen said the proposed legislation would "encourage each of us to sit down with our loved ones and our doctors to talk about our wishes for medical treatment when we are still healthy and in the best position to do so. The best decision making occurs when there is good and open communication among everyone involved - patient, family, and physician. Executing a legal document does not end the process," she said, praising the bill for creating an obligation for ongoing communication about treatment wishes. She urged the Committee to make clear that obligation extends to responsible family members or the patient's guardian.
For more i nformation , contact Susan Nowicki, APR, Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association, Ine, 70 E. Lake Street, Suite 600, Chicago, IL 60601; 312-853-3060.