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Choices available for life's last days

TARBORO - A former hospital chaplain spoke to a small crowd Tuesday about the importance of setting up plans for end-of-life care.

The event was sponsored by the Family Caregiver Support Program of the Edgecombe County Office on Aging. The Rev. Preston Smith, retired director of pastoral care at Nash General Hospital and member of the Nash-Edgecombe Partnership for End of Life Care, was the main speaker.

"I'm here today to educate and empower people in making end-of-life care choices," Smith said. "If you have the right information, you will be prepared."

Smith said two documents - a health care power of attorney and a declaration for a desire of natural death, commonly referred to as a living will - help ensure that physicians and family members know an individual's wishes in the event that he or she is faced with an end-of-life decision.

The living will document allows an individual to specify if he or she would want to be sustained through extraordinary means such as a respirator or a feeding tube. A power of attorney allows an individual to pick three friends or family members to make health care decisions for the hospitalized person in the event that he or she is unable to.

Sammie Crumley, a public notary and member of Nash-Edgecombe Partnership for End of Life Care, shared a personal story about the importance of communicating wishes to a power of attorney.

Crumley said her mother-in-law was in critical condition during a holiday, and the first two names on her power of attorney, her two sons, could not be reached. Crumley's 29-year-old son was listed third.

"He had no idea what her wishes were or where the forms were," Crumley said.

Smith said it is important that all three names on the power of attorney, as well as their physician, and know what the individual's wishes are.

"The most important thing to take away from this is to have a conversation, and to continue to have a conversation, with family physicians and those who care for us," Smith said.

Smith said a person should give a copy of his or her power of attorney to family members and physicians. That person should keep the original copy and make a list on it of all people given copies. This way, if the document is changed, copies can be easily updated, he said.

Joan Marie Stallings, director of the county office, said the event was set up because there is much interest about the topic in the community.

"The (Terry) Schiavo case has piqued an interest," she said

Smith said advances in technology have created a "gray area" in end-of-life care.

"Now, we don't know now when a person actually dies," he said. "It's going to continue to be a gray area."

Power of attorney and living will forms were handed out at the meeting. At the end of the session, Stallings asked for two people to stay behind and be witnesses to her living will. Crumley notarized the document.

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