Welcome to My Blog

I have a new logo, and I’m pleased to say that the day I purchased it and printed it out, I was able to ask a client what he thought about it, and he immediately recognized it as a tree and made the “tree of life” connection. Yes, that’s the tree I’m talking about! My logo is a tree that also looks like a person who is embracing a community. I think this is particularly relevant to what I do because I work to help my clients put together a holistic plan for their future – one that is consistent with the values a person has lived by and which honors the relationships with family and community members. Holistic planning can also involve peacemaking. The tree of life connection is especially meaningful to me because it symbolizes the transitory nature of our lives and the relationships, in the context of certain unchanging constants. The tree of life symbolizes a simple message of unity, that we are all part of a community and it is represented in a number of different cultures, myths, faiths and traditions across time and geography. It is an important symbol for my practice philosophy because I seek to assist my clients in identifying ways they can maximize the support and connections they need from others during their lives and so they can transmit their legacy after they are gone.

I mention the Tree of Life specifically on my blog page because my blog is the place where the diverse but related interests will converge. We have never before had so many 80 and 90 year-olds on the face of the earth. What are the implications for law, ethics, medicine, philosophy? These are all appropriate aspects of identifying a strategy for clients because a sound plan must take into account the “ripple effect” of individual actions that relate to financial, emotional, medical and physical considerations that are often relevant in the legal context.

 

Planning for Aging

Florentine graffiti… what me worry?

How does one assess the value of planning for one’s retirement, potential incapacity and/or eventual demise?  That is a very personal assessment, notwithstanding that the failure to plan has enormous financial consequences – for the individual, their loved ones and society as a whole.  Perhaps a prime and popular example is the failure to make advance heath directives – including appointing an agent under a health care power of attorney and signing a statement of end of life wishes – a/k/a a living will or in Colorado the Declaration as to Medical Treatment.  Read here for more useful information from the Colorado Advance Directives Consortium.  Many of us, perhaps most, would rather not entertain the idea that our lives will eventually change.  Our lives change every day, but whether we mark those changes is up to us!

“In the beginning is relation”

This famous quote by philosopher and theologian Martin Buber is a favorite of mine.  In my line of work relation and relationships are keys to planning and realistically assessing how far one can plan as well as the extent to which we must rely on others to assist us in the execution of our planning.

Aging and planning can give us the space to reflect on our values, what has been and remains important to us, and planning can also take much of the burden off our loved ones in the event we face a health crisis during we might be unable to make decisions.

I recently came across Sharona Hoffman’s 2015 book “Aging With a Plan,” and found it very insightful.  Hoffman is a law professor and, like many of us who practice in elder law, has life experience with an aging and frail parent.  She uses that experience, along with a systematic big picture discussion of a realistic conversation to consider all the alternatives in making plans for one’s aged self.

Many of us assume that, if we have lived in our home independently for 30+, we would never have an intention of leaving that space of storied independence and autonomy.  I note here that many elders (I’m including a number of clients and others) are coming to understand that there are good and workable alternative options for housing and community involvement that can nourish and sustain one’s basic human need to be part of a community and to contribute to that community.

I liked Hoffman’s approach to her book because it is founded on the importance of maintaining relationships, through social interaction and being useful (at whatever level).  The latter, being useful and having something or someone to take care of, is a fundamental premise in the “green house” nursing home alternative.  You can read about that in an article here from the Atlantic Monthly, or more about Dr.  Bill Thomas in a 2016 Washington Post article.  But I don’t want to get off track in talking about “green houses”  . . . .

So what are the components of a plan for aging? We are all familiar with retirement planning (even if the majority of us barely engage in such planning) and its focus on finances.  I think part of the repulsion in retirement planning is the focus on finances, many people simply find the savings part a difficult conversation and so stop before considering other aspects of retirement planning or aging with a plan.  I consider neither of these often heard comments a plan:  “X will never happen to me because my family doesn’t live that long;” or “if I can’t go to the bathroom or feed myself on my own, then just shoot me.”  We still don’t understand the role of genetics and epigenetics on the aging process very well and not deciding this very grown-up matter of “what happens if” means that we are shirking the responsibility be forcing someone else to choose for us…..

I recommend Hoffman’s book – it’s easy to read and its focus on several practical concerns including: finances; elders driving; person-centered (not disease-based) health care; and the importance of an exit strategy; demonstrate that the book is very useful – for an elder or elder-in training, or for an elder’s family member to assist with the awkward place of overcoming years of inertia.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Honoring Elder Mothers this Mother’s Day

 

denver elder law

Beautiful Hearts

There are many versions of the history of Mother’s Day and I found an excellent compilation at the National Women’s History Project.  As we all know, Mother’s Day will be celebrated (in this country) this Sunday, May 14, 2017.  There are many ways to honor our mothers – even if our mothers are no longer living.  In this post I’m tying together two seemingly disparate threads: how to honor our elder mothers on Mother’s Day by considering the plight of a large number of impoverished elder mothers if the American Health Care Act becomes the law of the land.

Last week I posted about long term care insurance, why it is helpful and . . .  how we shouldn’t be complacent about the availability of Medicaid services for poor and sick elders who lack the resources or savings to self-insure.  Little did I know that just hours after that post, I would get news of the U.S. House approving a version of the American Health Care Act which would, if it becomes law, gut Medicaid for millions of people, including elders!

What’s at stake?

Medicaid expansion under the ACA will be rolled back under the AHCA.  Here are some details about Medicaid expansion from a 3/26/17 Forbes article: From 2014 through 2016, the ACA’s Medicaid expansion population is funded 100% with federal dollars. Beginning this year, states gradually have to pick up some costs, but the federal government still picks up 90% or more of Medicaid expansion through 2020. It was a better deal than before the ACA, when Medicaid programs were funded via a much less generous split between state and federal tax dollars.  That article points out that the Medicaid expansion has been a boon to health insurance company giants like Aetna, Anthem, Centene, Humana and UnitedHealth Group, who have enrolled millions of new members under the expansion.

As this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation illustrates, the hardest hit under the AHCA appear to be nonelderly disabled adults, folks with conditions or diseases like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, developmental disabilities, people affected by brain injuries and so on.  But the AHCA would adversely impact elders as well, by its move to a “block grant” to states (a fixed $$ amount for each beneficiary) as well as the elimination of the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.   Of note is the “no” vote of U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R – CO) on the grounds of the AHCA’s failure to protect the relatively small number of persons with preexisting conditions, who would be left without any coverage.  You can read the AARP’s post about this here.

It is unlikely that elders on Medicaid will be heard from in large numbers about their loss of insurance coverage and benefits, but elders who will see their insurance premiums increase may be more vocal, and I think it’s a safe bet to count on the insurance companies (who benefitted from Medicaid expansion) to raise a hue and cry when the U.S. Senate examines the proposed legislation.  A Forbes article from 5/7/17 notes that “Of the 75.2 million Americans covered by Medicaid, 54.7 million are enrolled in private plans, a report from consulting firm PwC indicates. Much of the recent growth has come from Medicaid expansion, benefitting not only insurance companies but hospitals, doctors and other medical care providers.”

Without Medicaid funding from the federal government, which was the impetus for Medicaid expansion under the ACA,  states will be left on their own, with limited funds from federal “block grants” to cover a fraction of those persons who were enrolled and covered under Medicaid, or a fraction of those persons’ health care.  The Congressional Budget Office published its analysis of the AHCA on 3/13/17 and the summary states that the CBO and the JCT (Joint Committee on Taxation) “estimate that enacting the American Health Care Act would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the coming decade and increase the number of people who are uninsured by 24 million in 2026 relative to current law.”

For more information about the AHCA’s impact in Colorado, you can read a Denver Post article here from several weeks back.  The American Medical Association, which opposed the AHCA prior to its House approval, issued this statement on May 4, 2017, criticizing the bill for its results which would cause millions of Americans to lost access to quality, affordable healthcare and un-insuring those with pre-existing conditions.  Many of those folks with pre-existing conditions are elders.

If you aren’t tired of seeing all these links and want to read more, here’s a link to a New York Times article about who would be the winners and the losers under the AHCA.

Please consider honoring mothers by educating yourself about the AHCA and sharing your thoughts and opinions with others, perhaps even your elected officials.  It’s time to make the conversation about something other than money…

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

 

Do You Need Long Term Care Insurance?

Just Curious!

Like many other questions I pose to clients, who ask me the question first – my answer often begins with . . . “it depends.”  This particular question is often posed by clients doing pre-retirement planning and this may be the best time to be considering one’s options about how best to plan for retirement.  I would consider how one answers this question posed in the title to be part of how we look at our elderhood and its challenges and uncertainties, about which I have recently blogged.  So I will start with some basic questions.

How long will you live?

Sure, I bought a crystal ball a couple years back from a local shop, Grandpa’s Attic in Littleton, but I haven’t yet found a reputable online “gazing” course to hone my crystal ball reading skills. . . . ! Let me know if you have any leads on that.

Will you have health conditions that will make it difficult for you to live independently?

Some of us already have chronic health issues by the time we hit our 50’s or 60’s, so this might be a “heads up” that things could get progressively more difficult.  But many of us just want to simply pretend that a downturn in our health status isn’t likely and so somehow it wouldn’t be possible that we will outlive our financial resources.

Will you have enough money saved to cover for the needed additional care?

Many elders I know want to leave something to their kids after they’re gone.  How does the need to pay for care services, which one typically had been paying for previously in one form or another (if the elder had not been a longtime recipient of government benefits) adversely impact the person’s ability to leave a legacy to family members? Well, simply put, it can pit your own well-being and financial wherewithal against your child’s desire to inherit from you.  I know, it sounds crass and the kind of thing that would never happen to you . . . but the fact is that we elder law attorneys see a fair amount of this.  Why provide the temptation for your kids, to pit your ability to pay for your care against their ability to inherit funds from you?

If you don’t have sufficient funds to pay, who will pay for your care?

Many people assume that if they can’t pay their own way, perhaps family members will care for them.  In fact, our health care system (and I am reminded of Walter Cronkite’s quote “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system”) relies heavily on family caregivers to provide free services to help manage their loved one’s care, improve the patient’s quality of life, as well as reduce costs to the health care system.  Many folks simply want to assume that they will be able to stay in their home, regardless of their physical or medical condition.  This behavior has a name: avoidance or denial!

Will there be sufficient levels of public assistance available in the even you run out of money?

If you think that there will be plenty of money from your fellow taxpayers to fund your care, you might want to reconsider! The Medicaid expansion in Colorado under the Affordable Care Act made many more funds and programs available to impoverished elders who could not afford long term care services, but the continuation of these funds and services is not a sure thing!  The failed American Health Care Act would have gutted those funds available for elders.  Read more here from Justice in Aging’s blog.

Do you already assume that long term care insurance is going to be too expensive?

I met a financial advisor last year who was fairly new to the business, she told me that only “wealthy people” get LTC insurance. I explained to her in my experience that was not the case!  There are people who make getting a LTC policy a financial priority, and they aren’t always those folks who can otherwise afford easily to self-insure – meaning the wealthy who can afford a Cadillac LTC policy or who have enough funds to privately pay for care without making a dent in their kids’ inheritance.

The fact is, there are more ways to fund the purchase of an LTC policy than you can shake a stick at!  Here’s an article by Wade Pfau from Forbes magazine that has several helpful links to the smorgasbord of options currently available.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

What If We Declared a War on Elder Abuse?

Diana in Venice

What will it take to raise the public’s awareness of the prevalence of elder abuse? Here is a recent New York Times article about a woman from Washington state, a granddaughter of a victim of elder financial exploitation, who has made her mission in life to secure further legal protection for vulnerable elders.  I tip my hat to the Elder Law Profs blog for the mention of this article.  For this post, I’m focusing primarily on financial fraud and exploitation of elders.

Colorado statistics over the last several years (since the change in law concerning mandatory reporting of elder abuse and investigation by law enforcement) indicate the numbers continue to rise dramatically.  Read this Denver Post article from last fall with some of the breathtaking numbers in Colorado.  The national numbers are a bit more complicated, due in part to the variances of state laws concerning elder abuse – not all states have made it a crime to financially exploit an elder, as well as how such crimes get reported.  In Colorado, law enforcement and county adult protective services are part of the investigative framework for suspected elder abuse and some district attorneys’ offices have specialized prosecutors for such crimes.  The federal law, the Elder Justice Act – about which I have previously written, could provide an important means for developing a more systematic approach to reporting (among other important things) remains only partly funded.

A 2011 study published by MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates the financial loss by victims of elder financial crimes and exploitation exceeds $2.9 billion dollars annually, but this number remains controversial as other studies have estimated $17 billion or $36 billion.  Read about the variety of those numbers here.

How do we define fraud on elders?  That is a big part of the problem with a lack of any “standardized” way to identify such fraud and abuse so as to generate reportable numbers for particular types of fraud and abuse.  One thing that most are certain of is that the exploitation and fraud are both widely underreported –due to the shame and embarrassment factor, particularly when the perpetrator is a family member, friend or neighbor (occupying a position of trust).

Know the risk factors

Forbes recently ran an article by John Wasik that had a great summary of four of these which consider the elder’s behavior:

  • Poor Physical Health. Those who are physically compromised are unlikely to be focused on financial matters. They are often vulnerable to swindles.
  • Cognitive Impairment. When the ability to do basic things like read a banking statement or balance a checkbook declines, that’s when you have to pay attention. Those with declining math skills will not be asking important questions about new investing “opportunities.”
  • Difficulty in Activities of Daily Living. If a person has trouble feeding themselves, bathing or shopping, that’s a big set of red flags. That also means that they will have trouble managing money.
  • Social Isolation.Are they all alone? Then they won’t have the support of a network of peers, who could warn about scams.

Recognize the signs

The signs are of course numerous and varied, but keep in mind that there are many ways in which the behavior of the perpetrator of the fraud or exploitation of the elder mimics that of a perpetrator of domestic violence.

  • Use and abuse of control of the elder’s finances, such as taking, misusing, or using without the elder’s knowledge or permission their money or property;
  • Forging, forcing, or using deception, coercion or undue influence to get an elder person’s signature on a legal document – this could include signing over title to a home or other asset, or a power of attorney or a will;
  • Forging or otherwise forcing, or using deception or other inappropriate means to misappropriate funds from a pension or other retirement income, to cash an elder’s checks without permission or authorization;
  • Abusing joint signature authority on a bank account or misusing ATMs or credit cards;
  • Exploitation through a fiduciary relationship – such as an agent under a financial power of attorney acting beyond the scope of the agent’s authority, or improperly using the authority provided by a conservatorship, trust, etc.
  • Misleading an elder by providing true but misleading information that influences the elder person’s use or assignment of assets, persuading an impaired elder person to change a will or insurance policy to alter who benefits from the will or policy;
  • Promising long-term or lifelong care in exchange for money or property and not following through on the promise, overcharging for or not delivering caregiving services; and
  • Denying elders access to their money or preventing them from controlling their assets or gaining information about their assets.

Keep in mind that neither of these lists is comprehensive or exhaustive!

Report suspected abuse, exploitation or fraud

If you aren’t sure who to call and the situation doesn’t require a 911 call, use the National Center on Elder Abuse’s resource page to determine who to call.

The only way we will get a better handle on the extent and pervasiveness of elder financial abuse and exploitation is to become more familiar with it so that we know how to ask those whom we seek to protect.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Identifying the Inner Landscape of Elderhood

 

Italian Arch

Last week I went on a “spring break” trip of sorts. . .  to the Jung in Ireland seminar with the Monks of Glenstal Abbey. This year’s topic was shame and pride.  It was my third trip to Ireland for this seminar and this year’s topic resonated with me because I encounter these difficult emotions – particularly shame – in my elder law and probate practice.  Some of the issues I see, which have burgeoned into legal difficulties and which may necessitate legal proceedings – often resulting in extensive involvement by a court, might begin with these difficult emotions and play out badly in the family relationship context.

In my experience, one of the most difficult things for an elder parent to contend with is a squabble over how the elder’s health challenge or cognitive decline or other age-related malady will be managed by the adult children.  This can be a difficult place for a family as the elder parent just wants the kids to stop fighting, while the children often wage a pitched battle over who has the correct approach to helping the parent manage difficulties, as well as difficulties in identifying and upholding what each child perceives (often differently) as the best interests of a parent.  These adult children often cannot understand that each of them may be just as convinced as another sibling with an opposing point of view that they are uniquely equipped to handle the delicate issue of managing finances, helping secure appropriate housing or serving as a health care agent for their parent.

I offer these posts as a kind of alternative to an elder parent doing nothing – hoping not to cause world war III among their children.   Some parents hold to their firmly held belief that they “raised their kids right” and so naïvely want to believe that this thinking will somehow immunize them from conflict or worse, exploitation.  Many elders simply choose to wait, and simply hope for the best in the event a crisis occurs, to see how things might play out on a kind of wait and see basis.  There is an alternative to this denial!

This alternative I describe is about the kairos of elderhood. Kairos being the quality of time, the paying attention to the present and its opportunities to see what is in front of us and that which we have set before ourselves.  In our culture we focus almost exclusively on the quantitative aspect of time – chronos – as we simultaneously obsess over our longevity and puzzle over what to do with it.  In this post, I will identify the inner landscape as a determiner of what we see and perceive as the outside world – and how this might free us from some of our anxieties about aging and its deleterious effect on our human doing-ness.

What is the “inner landscape” to which I refer?  Well, the inner would refer here to the landscape which is inside us, how we see the world. I am reminded of Anais Nin’s keen observation that “we see the world not as it is but as we are.”  How can we remember this important detail in our “always on” world, where the disease of busy-ness is a chronic affliction and the pace of our lives offers few opportunities (much less encouragement) of staking out some reflective and contemplative time in our lives to consider an inner landscape?

In his book Mindsight, the psychiatrist Daniel Siegel offers an insightful description about personal transformation(s) that can lead to an integration of a self otherwise consisting of many disparate aspects.  I quote Mindsight at 238:

This drive for continuity and predictability [of a sense of self] runs head-on into our awareness of transience and uncertainty.  How we resolve the conflict between what is and what we strive for is the essence of temporal integration.

How many of us could remember by heart Blaise Pascal’s injunction “in difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart?”  If we can remember, perhaps that something beautiful is a feature of our inner landscape, made visible to us by an experience when we were outdoors in nature, in an interaction with another person or being, or perhaps by some sense of our identity relative to the “outside” world.  Our sense of permanence is illusory, and draws us again to the distinction between what we see and what we look for – the latter being where the Kairos quality of time resides.

That “something beautiful” is perhaps what Viktor Frankl describes in this quote from Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he describes the challenge of readjusting to life outside for the concentration camp survivors like himself:

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

I am reminded also of “Against the Pollution of the I,” by another concentration camp survivor (the blind French resistance leader), Jacques Lusseyran, where he describes “seeing” (remember he lost his sight as a child) …

It is often said that seeing brings us closer to things.  Seeing certainly permits orientation, the possibility of finding our way in space.  But with what part of an object dies it acquaint us?  It establishes a relationship with the surface of things.  With the eyes we pass over furniture, trees, people.  This moving along, this gliding, is sufficient for us.  We call it cognition.  And here, I believe, lies a great danger.  The true nature of things is not revealed by their first appearance.

Against the Pollution of the I, at 54 (2006: Morning Light Press).

I will end this post with another question, akin to the kairos-chronos distinction: If we as individuals and as persons in relationship with loved ones valued our time (how we spend it) as much as we do our space (how we fill it with stuff) – could this change our relationships for the better?

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Caregiving is Not for Sissies!

Sideways Sky

 

In my latest issue of Bifocal, the bi-monthly publication of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Aging, I noticed a helpful new resource entitled Ten Legal Tips for Caregivers. Here’s a link to the document.  In case you’re wondering who that “typical” family caregiver is, a recent New York Times article written by a resident physician, identified her as

a 49-year-old woman caring for an older relative — but nearly a quarter of caregivers are now millennials and are equally likely to be male or female. About one-third of caregivers have a full-time job, and 25 percent work part time. A third provide more than 21 hours of care per week. Family caregivers are, of course, generally unpaid, but the economic value of their care is estimated at $470 billion a year — roughly the annual American spending on Medicaid.

The comments section of this NYT article is both telling and heart wrenching, as there are so many stories of people who recount many of the article’s observations that this massive group of volunteer caregivers put themselves at risk in ways from which it may be difficult to recover.  There is the great financial risk, cutting back on work in order to care for an elder parent.  This financial strain is measurable but probably the more disturbing numbers comes from other studies concerning the lingering health effects (like depression, anxiety and chronic disease) of extended caregiving.  A JAMA article from 1999 entitled “Caregiving as a Risk Factor for Mortality: The Caregiver Health Effects Study” quantify the heightened mortality rates of caregivers.

So, enough of this gloom and doom, eh? Don’t let me get started on how this volunteer army’s numbers will be forced to multiply dramatically in the event the Affordable Care Act, with its Medicaid expansion services which many seniors now enjoy, is repealed.  Considerable portions of the Medicaid programs for elders will likely simply disappear under the block grants which could replace the ACA’s funding of these programs, which has taken several years to put in place.   Changes to Medicare from the proposed legislation known as the AHCA could compromise Medicare’s viability in a shorter time frame. That’s another blog post!

Olay, so what steps can a caregiver take to protect themselves legally?  The tip sheet identifies ten different steps or competencies which the caregiver can utilize to better assist the elder for whom they provide care as well as to protect themselves:

  1. Understand decisional capacity
  2. Know what legal authority you have
  3. Appoint a health care agent
  4. Complete a financial power of attorney
  5. Manage Social Security/ Veteran’s benefits
  6. Know your rights of access to health care information
  7. Know the signs of abuse, neglect and exploitation
  8. Know your rights if you face Family Responsibilities Discrimination (a form of employment discrimination)
  9. Understand your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (federal legislation)
  10. Consider a Personal Care Agreement (to counteract some of the financial losses described above)

This tip sheet, like other public resources made available by the American Bar Association, contains useful and helpful information.  It is a welcome reminder for caregivers that they should not wait until a health crisis to figure out the basics of how best to provide care for their elder.  Making advance care arrangements and learning more about how to manage information and choices for another (using durable powers of attorney) can help take some of the anxiety out of the “what if’s” so many caregivers face on a regular basis.  Turns out that taking care of the caregiver allows for better care to be provided for the elder who needs care.  That’s all for now!

© 2017 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

Medical Aid in Dying for Dementia Patients Who Lack Capacity

A Maelstrom?

A couple days ago a bill was introduced in the Oregon senate (S.B. 893 – you can read it here) which would permit a patient’s expressly identified healthcare agent in an advance healthcare directive, “to collect and administer prescribed medication for purpose of ending patient’s life . . . if patient ceases to be capable after having received prescription for life-ending medication.”  [Thanks Jennifer for the heads up!] This bills extends Oregon’s medical aid in dying law (the Oregon Death With Dignity Act) to allow another person (“expressly identified agent”) to get the prescription for MAID and administer it to the person who lacks the capacity to arrange for getting a prescription for MAID and self-administering it.

The definitional section of the bill, which highlights the additions to the existing Oregon law, clarifies that “expressly identified agent” is an agent under a health care power of attorney.  The additions state further:

SECTION 3. An expressly identified agent may collect medications dispensed under ORS 127.815 (1)(L)(B)(ii) and administer the medications to the patient in the manner prescribed by the attending physician if:

(1) The patient lawfully executed an advance directive in the manner provided by ORS 127.505 to 127.660;

(2) The patient’s advance directive designates the expressly identified agent as the person who is authorized to perform the actions described in this section;

(3) The patient’s advance directive includes an instruction that, if the patient ceases to be capable after medication has been prescribed pursuant to ORS 127.800 to 127.897, the expressly identified agent is authorized to collect and to administer to the patient the prescribed medication;

(4) The medication was prescribed pursuant to ORS 127.800 to 127.897; and

(5) The patient ceases to be capable.

This is a huge departure from what might be called the “status quo” of the handful of states (and last month, the District of Columbia) regarding the legality and administration of MAID.  When I presented at the CBA/CLE Advanced Elder Law Institute last week on the new Colorado End of Life Options Act, I mentioned that something like this would be inevitable.  I had no idea that this bill would be introduced the following week!

This Oregon bill basically eliminates the requirement of mental capacity for a patient to be qualified to arrange for MAID.  The Oregon statute concerning health care powers of attorney can be read here.  So many concerns come to mind I can scarcely name them.  It makes the principal’s job of selecting the correct health care agent a matter of life and death – literally.

Dementia – of a variety of types – can often last for years, so perhaps it would not be so easy for a principal with dementia to be otherwise qualified under the Oregon law (with a terminal illness and not expected to live longer than six months) to have the health care agent end the principal’s life.  I’m not certain that diminishes my concerns.

What if there is a passage of years between the naming of the health care agent and the advance of a person’s dementia?  There is often a change of relationship that occurs during this time, whether it concerns a spouse, life partner or child.  How would this be accounted for?  There is no allowances for change of circumstances here.

This prospect of putting someone out of their misery might just be what my veterinarian meant (as she was administering the drugs to end my much-loved elderly dog’s life) when she stated “I wish we could do this for people.”  But there is of course the prospect (along with many examples over the course of human history, particularly recent history) of putting another person out of our misery.  How do we discern the difference in these circumstances?  I will write more on this topic later.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

Springtime!

Fast facts about the Colorado End of Life Options Act

Where the Light Comes In

Today I’m presenting on this topic at the biennial Advanced Elder Law Institute, put on by Continuing Legal Education in Colorado.  It’s a two day program and I’m looking forward to it.  One of the best things about being a lawyer is I am always challenged to learn new things, as the law is – just like the rest of us – in a constant state of change and development!

As you may be aware, Colorado voters passed ballot initiative 106 last November and after certification of the election results by our Secretary of State, the law went into effect when Governor Hickenlooper signed it (by proclamation, in accordance with Article V of the Colorado Constitution) on December 16, 2016.  Colorado became the sixth state to have a physician assisted death law.  Other states with such laws include Oregon (the first state to have such a law) and Washington, where voters approved the laws as ballot initiatives; as well as Vermont and California, with their laws being passed by their legislatures in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Technically, Montana is also one of these states (by virtue of a Montana Supreme Court decision) but it doesn’t have any regulatory means of providing physician assisted death.

The title of the Colorado statute is the Colorado End of Life Options Act (EoLOA), but the terminology used for the death-causing prescription is “medical aid in dying” (hereafter MAID).

Unlike most statutes originating as legislation in the Colorado legislature, there was no preparation time for easing into this new law.  What are the implications of this?

Doctors have to get up to speed quickly on this new law.  They hold considerable power in this new law – they make the determination whether a person qualifies under the EoLOA as “terminally ill;” is “mentally capable” to request the MAID, get and fill that prescription.  Emergency rules had to be put in place by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment concerning the new law.  You can read the rules and download a couple of the forms on the CDPHE site.

There have been a number of complications with this new law and its immediate enactment.  The EoLOA is designed to cover all physicians and facilities unless there is a written policy notifying both patients and physicians of the facility’s policy to “opt out” of compliance with the law.  One of the challenges with simplifying this complicated issue of MAID in the initiative is that the law makes MAID available but there is no guarantee that an individual will have access to such MAID.  Several religious based systems opted out fairly early and there are other complications that have presented with other facilities.  Here’s a Denver Post article which speaks to some of those challenges.

An individual’s access to MAID may depend on where one lives.  Access may be more difficult in rural areas.  A local rural hospital board explained their “opt out” policy as follows:

The law requires that hospitals opt in or opt out of the practice; participation by hospitals and physicians is voluntary.  In December, YVMC’s Board of Trustees decided to opt out of participation in the End of Life Options Act at this time. This is due largely to the number of standards that must in place to meet both the requirements of the law and the needs of patients. The Board of Trustees, along with YVMC’s Ethics Committee, will continue to review the End of Life Options Act and will keep the possibility open to opt into the End of Life Options Act at a later date.

Because of this decision to opt out, patients are not permitted to self-administer medical aid in dying medication on YVMC’s premises, nor are employed or contracted physicians permitted to write a prescription for medical aid in dying medication for an individual who intends to self-administer medical aid in dying medication on YVMC’s premises.

Colorado is not the only state experiencing these difficulties.  Here’s a recent NY Times article on aid in dying and access difficulties.

I’ll close with three “tips” regarding MAID and minimizing conflict at the end of life:

  • Talk to your doctor and find out what all of your options are
  • Talk to your family and loved ones about what you might decide to do
  • Don’t wait too long! The MAID process takes at least two weeks….

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Ethical Wills and “Legacy Letters” – an Overview

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Italian Marble

It’s been a few years (3 ½)  since I’ve written on this topic, and a colleague recently asked me to speak on this at an event this fall.   The fact is, I think writing an ethical will is another way of imparting meaning into our lives – whether we are young and healthy and writing to our young children about what we hold dear and hope to carry into their future, or we are old and sick and recording more of a legacy of a life lived.   In my previous blog post, I described five different approaches to writing an ethical will: an explanation; an expectation; an affirmation; an historical document (think genealogy or heirlooms); and a statement of values.

In today’s post, I’m focusing on the last approach – a statement of values.  An ethical will in this context is essentially a document which can serve to identify those values, that “something” to live for, which has sustained the author and given meaning and texture to the tapestry of one’s life.

The ethical will or legacy letter is the big picture view of what can be encompassed in estate planning.  Keep in mind that the majority of Americans die without any estate plan in place.  Many of those folks might simply respond to a question about any need for planning with a retort “I’ll be dead, so I won’t care” – but I think there is some fear lurking behind that otherwise lackadaisical sounding statement. . .

If one chooses to engage in estate planning by executing: powers of attorney which name others to act on our behalf in the event we are unable (which may include a conversation and some direction about how money should be spent for one’s care); a living will to express our end of life health care preferences; and a will which sets forth how our estate will be distributed then  — is it really much of a stretch to go from identifying what you need to live to identify something to live for? I think not!

Here is a link to a website with some touching examples of ethical wills written by a variety of people.   What I am suggesting here is that the ethical will can help us to live life more fully – read: by preparing to die – and as preparation to face the rest of one’s life, with whatever level of fear, exhilaration or trepidation that entails.

So here are some ideas to employ for that statement of values:

Describe who you have been or who you are now in relationship to your family of origin, your family of creation and perhaps your family of choice;

  • Write about those things that you hold most dear, what you are grateful for and perhaps also the things you regret;
  • Describe those principles, rituals, or teachings, etc., which have been important to you and explain why they hold such meaning to you; and
  • Write about aspects of your life and your values that demonstrate the meaning of your life, the experience of that meaning and how you have constructed the meaning(s) over the course of your life.

These are just a few examples of how, in the creative act of putting into words one’s life story, or describing the values one holds dear, one can construct a broader meaning and see connections of the disparate or seemingly disconnected parts of a life in new ways.  The context or impetus for telling one’s story may be significant to the context of the story or perhaps not at all.  Constructing a life story – even if it is only an early part of a life – is an example of how we as human are engaged in the search for meaning.  I have always been fond of Ernest Becker’s term for our species – homo poetica or “man the meaning maker.”

This search for meaning, as well as our attempts to construct and our longing to impart meaning, can be a very useful tool for us at any age.  The ethical will as an example can help us integrate our life’s experiences and help us see the “big picture” of the meaning of our life and the lives of others as well.  It reminds me of Viktor Frankl and his logotherapy, based on “will to meaning.”   Each of us, no matter what is the ease or difficulty we face in our lives, remain free to find the meaning in our own life.  Writing an ethical will can help us construct that meaning.

© 2017 Barbara Cashman  www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

Colorado End of Life Options Act Vocabulary part II

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Strange Orchid

 

So this is the second post examining our new statute. Today I’m focusing on a couple of its provisions which provide an intersection which I find quite troubling.  Let’s look first at  C.R.S. 25-48-103. Right to request medical aid-in-dying medication

  • (1) An adult resident of Colorado may make a request, in accordance with sections 25-48-104 and 25-48-112, to receive a prescription for medical aid- in-dying medication if:
  • (a) The individual’s attending physician has diagnosed the individual with a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less;
  • (b) The individual’s attending physician has determined the individual has mental capacity: and
  • (c) The individual has voluntarily expressed the wish to receive a prescription for medical aid-in-dying medication.
  • (2) The right to request medical aid-in-dying does not exist because of age or disability.

Seems simple enough, but did you read (2)?  This (2) is particularly interesting as it looks to be intended to try and minimize criticism from two quarters: First from elders and those who work for and with them (like yours truly) who can both understand the quality of life aspects of the availability of MAID to frail and vulnerable elders; and can also see the connection between “duty to die” (remember Gov. Lamm?) and a “right to die” based on . . . .  a perceived (by others) quality of life and use of scarce resources.  This statutory language provides no comfort for me.  Secondly, this (2) is also a vain attempt to disqualify criticisms from the disability rights community (folks like Not Dead Yet,) who challenge equating “quality of life” and “loss of autonomy” with “dignity.”

If you think I’m exaggerating the concern with ageism and loss of dignity of elders inherent in this statute, then simply turn your attention to §25-48-116 (Immunities for actions in good faith) which states at (3):

A request by an individual for, or the provision by an attending physician of, medical aid-in-dying medication in good-faith compliance with this article does not:

  • (a) Constitute neglect or elder abuse for any purpose of law; or
  • (b) Provide the basis for the appointment of a guardian or conservator.

Can the really say this?!!  Does the provision of these broad and sweeping statements pertaining to elders or the disabled address the underlying issue and concern about potential for coercion or exploitation? I don’t believe it does at all – in fact it points out the law’s weaknesses here. Yet the proponents of the initiative denied and discounted any concerns from those who would question putting vulnerable elders at risk of being coerced and exploited.

The statute’s attempt to preempt any claim that another’s encouragement or assistance (I can think of several different dangerous scenarios off the top of my head) or “helping” someone with availing themselves of MAID would not constitute elder abuse, coercion, undue influence, or some other improper activity is shocking to me.  The fact remains that there are a lot of elders who are not in good health who could easily be convinced to use MAID.  Will the doctors be sensitive to this? Will they have the training and the resources to detect the “big picture” of what an exploiter may be attempting to gain from an elder who is simply trying to use MAID?  These questions trouble me.

A recent case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Gross v. Switzerland, involved a Swiss national who sought physician assisted suicide on the grounds that she was old and adversely affected by the continued decline of her faculties.  Previous ECHR decisions concerned the assisted suicide for persons who were seriously ill.   Turns out there was a Swiss woman who did not have a serious illness but she had simply grown tired of living in her octogenarian body.

The concern about aging and quality of life is real and not imagined, especially based on this (quality of life) being one of the top reasons for Oregonians choosing death.  It reminds me of the statistics about victims of elder abuse – that they tend to have their lives shortened by such abuse.  Our statute would seem to affirm that the life-shortening on quality of life grounds is legitimate and simply a matter of one’s own “choosing.”  It validates what many of us suspect, that if things don’t look like they will get any better for us, we might as well give it up and cut our losses.  I’m thinking of a well written New Yorker article from June 22, 2015 entitled “The Death Treatment: when should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?”  I’m back to my concern stated in my previous post about the power we have given over to our doctors, who now determine whether a person suffers from a terminal illness and is otherwise entitled to seek MAID.  In Colorado, our law defines self-administration, but the statute has no explicit requirement that an individual self-administer.  We don’t have to “jump” to any conclusions here – the path is just a baby step from self-administration to administration with some assistance.

So if we only think there exists a requirement of self-administration, then the line between a doctor prescribing MAID and the “delivery” of the drugs either through self-administration or with assistance (albeit often in the guise of encouragement) of others is a thin one indeed.  I quote from The New Yorker article here:

The laws seem to have created a new conception of suicide as a medical treatment, stripped of its tragic dimensions. Patrick Wyffels, a Belgian family doctor, told me that the process of performing euthanasia, which he does eight to ten times a year, is “very magical.” But he sometimes worries about how his own values might influence a patient’s decision to die or to live. “Depending on communication techniques, I might lead a patient one way or the other,” he said. In the days before and after the procedure, he finds it difficult to sleep. “You spend seven years studying to be a doctor, and all they do is teach you how to get people well—and then you do the opposite,” he told me. “I am afraid of the power that I have in that moment.”

I am concerned that what the End of Life Options Act appears to offer folks is freedom of choice, but it is really more about the giving away of more power to our doctors as well as making segments of our population even more vulnerable to coercion.  More later!

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org