On Sunday, Congregation Bet Haverim hosted a “Five Wishes” workshop on end-of-life wishes at their Social Hall, located at 1715 Anderson Road.
This workshop is meant to give individuals, 18 years or older, the opportunity to create “the first living will with a heart and soul,” according to the Five Wishes workbook. Five Wishes accounts for not only the physical, but also the personal, emotional and spiritual needs that a person has as they near death.
Rosanne Mandel, the host of the Five Wishes workshop, explains that she decided to host the event because she appreciates Five Wishes’ approach and desires that her family had, had the same options when her mother was passing away.
“I’m hoping we can help people avoid going through the confusion that my family and I went through,” Mandel said.
Cynthia Wolff, the director of community education at Yolo Hospice, who has been a hospice nurse for 15 years and a nurse for 35 years, spoke at the workshop. She said that Five Wishes is “an advanced care-planning tool.”
Much debate surrounds end-of-life options following the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old terminally ill patient from California, diagnosed with a brain tumor, who moved to Oregon in order to partake in the Death with Dignity approach. The Death with Dignity bill states that adults with a terminal illness can choose to end their lives with the help of medical staff.
Senate bill (SB) 128, introduced on Jan. 20 by Senator Lois Wolk (D) and Senator William W. Monning (D), allows California residents who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, are 18 years or older and have been evaluated as being medically competent, to qualify for what some call an “end-of-life option” and opponents define as “assisted suicide.”
SB 128 was a response to Maynard’s predicament, which attracted much media attention.
Monica Schmalenberger, a legislative aid under Senator Wolk, relayed Wolk’s views. She said that California legislators have introduced similar bills on seven occasions, the most recent being in 2007.
“We really feel like this sentiment towards [legislation such as the Death with Dignity bill] in California has changed since 2007 and California is ready for this bill,” Schmalenberger said.
However, SB 128 has also raised some concerns.
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, the associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, explains that the Death with Dignity bill is problematic.
“The idea of suicide…contradicts the physician’s duty to [use] our knowledge and our skills for [the purpose of] healing, to support the life that patients have and to never directly aim at killing the patient…they need encouragement rather than help killing themselves,” Kheriaty said.
Schmalenberger refuted the claim that the Death with Dignity bill is “suicide.”
In reference to Maynard, she stated that the Death with Dignity bill “is not suicide” but is “an end-of-life option for patients that have already been given a death sentence due to their terminal illness.”
“Suicide is not defined by the means that people use, it’s defined by what kind of act it is — the act of deliberately ending one’s life,” Kheriaty said.
He argued that there are better alternatives to “assisted suicide.”
“A hospice offers people medical, psychological and social care in the last stage of their life… [We need to help] people understand that palliative care has been developed to provide highly effective ways to help people be comfortable in their last days,” Kheriaty said.
Wolff agreed that “assisted suicide” is not the answer.
“I am biased because…in my opinion and with the experience that I have had, a hospice can get that patient to the comfort stage where they’re not in pain and their symptoms are not causing them this distress.”
Amongst the controversy surrounding the SB 128, Five Wishes is one end-of-life option that Wolff pointed to.
The five wishes in the workbook are as follows: The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Can’t, The Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want, How Comfortable I Want to Be, How I Want People to Treat Me and What I Want My Loved Ones to Know.
The first two, Wolff explains, are concerned with legal factors, while the last three emphasize emotional and spiritual needs.
Wolff said that the heart behind Five Wishes is advanced care planning.
“[It] is so essential for people because what happens is people make decisions when they’re at a crisis point and that’s what we want to prevent,” Wolff said. “Care-planning prevents people from having to make a decision when they don’t know what the right decision is.”
Graphic by Jennifer Wu