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Planning for a Good Death: 'National Healthcare Decisions Day' is April 16

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Roz Brown

(New Mexico News Connection) Coincidence or not, the day set aside to get "end-of-life" affairs in order always falls on either side of the day taxes are due to the federal government and states.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is Sunday, just two days before income taxes are due.

MaryKay Brady, secretary-treasurer of the group End of Life Options New Mexico, likes to quote Benjamin Franklin, who is credited with saying, "The only things certain in life are death and taxes." She said too many people adopt a death-denying attitude.

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"Trying to get people to think about their advanced-care plan and creating their advanced directive is critical - and yet, it's not a static piece of paper," she said. "It's something that needs to be addressed annually or big changes in your life."

Those big changes might include marriage or a divorce.

The movement was founded in 2008 by a Virginia-based health-care lawyer who wanted folks to have clear, concise and consistent documentation in place before illness leaves them incapacitated.  

Brady said she believes a lot of end-of-life distress and suffering, including for family members and caregivers, could be avoided if documents had been prepared in advance. 

"We say statistically, 75 percent of the people would really like to die at home," she said, "and yet only about 25 percent do - the rest of them are in a hospital. I don't want to die in a hospital - I can be kept comfortable at home and that's my choice. But if I don't have the paperwork, it ain't going to happen."

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Planning forms are available online from Brady's nonprofit New Mexico group, the Conversation Project and other sites. It also can be found at public libraries. Brady said her mission is to demystify health-care decision-making and help people understand that the process is much more than just having a living will, and will include choosing an agent.

"So, you can just fill it out online, print it, be sure you share copies with everybody," she said. "I mean, take it to your doctor, share it with the person that you've named as a surrogate - the person that will speak for you when you can't speak for yourself."

New Mexico is one of 10 states plus Washington, D.C., that have enacted medical-aid-in-dying laws.