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By Liza Horvath


Stripping of Rights


Lena is smart, independent and, throughout her long life, she lived with her husband on many continents and held professional positions with noteworthy organizations. Losing her husband at the age of 90, Lena continued to drive, shop and tend to her personal needs. At the age of 91, Lena voluntarily, although reluctantly, gave up her driver’s license, donated her car to a favorite charity and became dependent on the shuttle services provided by the senior living center where she resides.  


When Lena lost her footing in the bathroom late one night, she pressed the “help button” provided by the facility and soon the local fire department was there to help. Accepting that she may need to be checked over by a physician, she agreed to have the ambulance take her to the hospital emergency room.


The attending doctor admitted Leah for a battery of tests to ensure that nothing serious had happened in the fall and to rule out the usual causes of a loss of balance such as stroke, inner-ear infection or other serious possibilities. Unfortunately, the tests revealed that Lena had a grave and possibly life-threatening tumor. The physician advised her that with surgery, possibly followed by chemotherapy, Lena had “a good chance” of surviving. Lena has lived a great life and she is happy and fulfilled. However, each and every day she deeply misses her best friend and husband of 65 years. Lena advised the doctors that she would not have the surgery and asked to be discharged.


Lena’s decision put into play a sequence of events that may surprise many. Hospitals are staffed with caring professionals who commit their lives to the health and wellbeing of their patients. Additionally, because it could be construed – by a jury most likely - that there was oversight or neglect on the part of a hospital who discharges a seriously ill patient, doctors and hospitals are slow to allow a very ill patient to go home - especially one that is elderly and will return to an empty home.


These concerns, however legitimate, can result in the stripping away of our rights to make our own health care decisions and this taking away of rights particularly effects seniors. The hospital would not discharge Lena until she made arrangements for home care – at least on a temporary basis – through a homecare agency. Alternatively, the hospital would discharge Lena to a convalescent home where she would need to reside for a period of time. Both alternatives were extremely unwelcome to Lena. She had lived her life independently, she knew that ignoring the physician’s advice to undergo surgery would ultimately result in her death – sooner probably rather than later – but she wanted to be back home and in charge of her own daily living needs.


Next week’s Senior Advocate will review the choices Lena made and the decisions that were made for her. A person has the right to make their own decisions about healthcare and, ultimately, the right to choose how to spend your last days - or do we?



Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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