Her name has been in the media for months. Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman from Florida, for years was at the center of a court battle between her parents and her husband over whether her feeding tube should be removed. The tube eventually was removed after courts determined her husband, her legal guardian, had the right to decide to remove the tube.
The Schiavo case was brought to light during the 12th annual Living with Grief teleconference sponsored by the Hospice Foundation of America at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
St. Joseph's Medical Center hosted the teleconference. The Brainerd satellite site was one of 1,300 in the nation where "Living with Grief: Ethical Dilemmas at the End of Life" was broadcast. About 30 people attended the 2 1/2-hour teleconference in Brainerd.
Residents in the Brainerd lakes area watched a teleconference at Central Lakes College in Brainerd dealing with end-of-life issues. Hosted by St. Joseph's Medical Center, CLC was one of 1,300 satellite sites in the nation where "Living with Grief: Ethical Dilemmas at the End of Life" was broadcast.
Barb Anderson, director of marketing and community relations at St. Joseph's, said this teleconference generated a lot of interest and a large turnout, probably because the topic was timely because of the Schiavo case.
The teleconference consisted of a panel of experts who gave their insight on the following: Ethical decisions at the end of life; facts about advanced directives and wills; artificial hydration and nutrition issues, such as a feeding tube; physicians who assist patients to commit suicide; policy implications; and the grieving process.
The experts agreed there is a need to create a structure, such as an advanced directive, to give families and surrogate decision-makers time to discuss potential end-of-life decisions.
An advanced directive is a legal document where people name their spokesperson, or the person they give power of attorney. A will is a legal document where people state their wishes on what they want done if they become terminally ill.
The experts said even if a patient has an advanced directive, a number of ethical issues could arise because the legal document could be difficult to interpret or the surrogate or family may not agree with the patient.
Karen DuBord, director of spiritual care at St. Joseph's who attended the teleconference, said staff at the hospital are required to ask patients if they have an advanced directive. If they don't they are given the forms, she said.
DuBord, who deals with terminally ill patients and their families who need assistance spiritually, said the teleconference was excellent. She said there are a lot of gray areas when dealing with end-of-life issues.
DuBord said she liked what the panelists had to say about physicians asking their patients if they understand their health condition. She said patients need to know what their condition is and physicians should not sugar-coat their condition.
"I also agree that physicians need to allow patients their hope and our job is to stand with them in their experience," said DuBord.
The experts stressed throughout the teleconference the importance of communication between patients and physicians on end-of-life wishes. They said patients need to discuss their wishes with their spokesperson as well as their physician so there are no surprises.
Many who attended the teleconference said it was worth attending.
Ruth Gogolin, a volunteer at St. Joseph's, said, "The teleconference was great, especially after the Schiavo mess. The comments made did not really surprise me. I think it is a family decision.
"I have a family will and everyone should have one, otherwise it divides the family."
Karen Wurtzberger, director of social services at the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, attended the teleconference to learn more about end-of-life issues.
"There are no real clear-cut answers," said Wurtzberger.
Wurtzberger said the teleconference heightened awareness of cultural differences and how religion plays a part in families' decisions. She said physicians need to look at society and its diversity when helping patients with end-of-life issues.
Denise Olsen, a social worker at St. Joseph's, attended the teleconference to learn about the topic so she could serve her clients more efficiently regarding medical assistance and financial arrangements.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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