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Living Wills Made Clearer In N.H. Law

Monday, December 30, 2013
Concord — A dying person’s last wishes for what lengths they want doctors to go to keep them alive will be better spelled out after a New Hampshire law takes effect with the New Year.

State Sen. Peggy Gilmour, the new law’s prime sponsor, said the current living will form has caused confusion because it requires people to fill out both a section stating whether they want life-sustaining treatment as well as a separate section on whether they want artificially administered nutrition and hydration.

Under the new law, hydration and nutrition are included in the definition of life-sustaining treatment, said Shawn LaFrance, executive director of the Foundation for Healthy Families.

Gilmour, a Hollis Democrat, said the aim of the new law is to simplify the advance directive form, not to change or limit people’s rights.

With the old form, people may have thought they stated that they did not want heroic measures including respirators and feeding tubes, she said.

“But if you had not specifically said, ‘I don’t want artificial administration of hydration and nutrition,’ they wouldn’t put you on a respirator but they would put in a feeding tube,” Gilmour said.

The issue of whether to supply hydration and nutrition is a highly emotional one brought to national attention when a feeding tube was inserted into Terry Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a bitter right-to-die battle. She died in 2005 after her feeding tube was removed following a long court battle among family members.

People use advance directives to appoint someone who can make medical decisions for them when they are incapacitated and at the end of their life.

The person named has clear instructions on whether to order all means necessary to sustain the dying person’s life, end all extraordinary efforts, or something else tailored to their wishes. Medical providers encourage people to fill out the forms so their desires are followed if they are no longer able to speak for themselves.

LaFrance said an annual one-day survey showed that about one-third of New Hampshire adults in hospitals have advance directives. The form is free and people have the option of having their signature notarized or witnessed by two adults, not including the person they designate to make health care decisions for them.

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