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Costello, Gara Announce Bi-Partisan Bill to Protect Patient Dignity and Privacy in End of Life Health Care Decisions

Today, Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) and Representative Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) announced they will pre-file legislation to protect the privacy and dignity of patients who are non-responsive and on life support.  The bill would require the state Department of Health and Social Services to keep a person's living will or health care directive on file to assist medical providers in locating it.

"When a person writes a health care directive for end of life decisions, that is a private matter and should be respected," said Gara.  “It’s a matter of dignity that their living wills, which are often located at different hospitals, be found and implemented to respect the patient's health care choices.”

Often a person will file a living will at one medical center, and have to face health care decisions at another facility, maybe out-of-state, which does not possess the person's living will. 

"We don't want families already in difficult, stressful situations to have to call all over the state, or country, to find where their loved one filed their living will,” said Costello.  “This bill will take away that hassle, make the living will easy to find, and make it easier for doctors to implement the patient's private decisions." 

The bill also requires the department to secure the directives in a manner that assures the patient’s privacy.  Medical providers could contact the department through a secure electronic website to obtain the document. 

Alaskans pride themselves on their independence and individuality, and the state constitution reflects that with strong privacy and individual rights provisions. Similarly, Alaskans have individual views on when, under what circumstances, and for how long they wish to stay on life support. This bill removes a logistical hurdle for those trying to help Alaskans who are in their most vulnerable state exercise that independence.

“One of the Commission’s core strategies for improving Alaska’s health care system is to increase dignity and quality of care for seriously and terminally ill patients,” said Deborah Erickson, executive director of the Alaska Health Care Commission.  “Advance directives ensure that an individual and their family’s critical health care decisions will be honored.  The Commission recommended the Legislature establish an advance directive registry to provide a secure, confidential way to make Alaskans’ individual health care choices easily accessible by hospitals and health care providers in an emergency.”

The bill would implement a recommendation of the governor's Health Care Commission, and represents state of the art policy in this area. 

"This is a matter of respecting a person's right to privacy.  Decisions on how to be treated when they face catastrophic health decisions, and are on life support, are among the most private ones we make, and should be respected," said Gara.

Gara and Costello have collaborated on prior successful legislation and look forward to working with the Health Care Commission and legislators to make any changes needed in the bill's language to improve it and its privacy protections.

The official bill will be released on Friday, January 17, 2014 with the second batch of pre-filed legislation.

The Alaska Health Care Commission report recommendations are on page 9 of this document:

http://dhss.alaska.gov/ahcc/Documents/HC-CommissionStrategiesRecommendationsThru2013.pdf

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