Obama issues memo to ensure that hospitals honor patients' end-of-life wishes

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A presidential memorandum aims to protect the rights of hospital patients on Medicare and Medicaid who are approaching the end of their lives.

The memo, which was released Thursday, directs the Department of Health and Human Services to “ensure that all hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid are in full compliance with regulations … to guarantee that all patients' advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected, and that patients' representatives otherwise have the right to make informed decisions regarding patients' care.” It also instructs the department to provide assistance for healthcare providers to help comply with those regulations. Besides the end-of-life care aspect, the memo expands the rights of individuals to designate hospital visitors who are not family members.

It is increasingly common for healthcare providers to disregard the end-of-life wishes and advance directives of patients, according to a National Public Radio analysis of the effects of the new memo. Many states, like Idaho, have passed laws that allow a variety of healthcare providers to ignore patient wishes if they disagree with them. The Catholic Church also recently issued a new rule that increases the use of feeding tubes in comatose patients at Catholic-sponsored hospitals, regardless of the patient's wishes, according to NPR.