UMD professor brings perspective to end-of-life questionsIn college, taking it to the limit is usually an after-class activity — except when listening to Dr. Barbara Elliott talk about encountering the end of life.
By: Thomas Vaughn, For the Budgeteer News
In college, taking it to the limit is usually an after-class activity — except when listening to Dr. Barbara Elliott talk about encountering the end of life.
Elliott talked to about 150 students and 20 other attendees Nov. 14. about the importance of putting end-of-life health care wishes in writing, in a document called an advance directive.
“The lecture was very, very informative,” said Joshua Durham, a UMD junior. “I think it was pretty helpful, too. I lost my grandpa a year or so ago. I’m going to go home now and ask my parents if he had an advance directive at all, and talk about the processes of all this stuff. Everyone’s going to go through this, so it’s important to have all your ducks in a row.”
Elliott holds a doctorate in sociology. She began teaching courses at UMD’s school of medicine in 1978 about the influence of family life on health. In 1982, she officially joined the School of Medicine faculty as a family medicine professor.
“We are all participants as well as recipients when it comes to our health care,” said Elliott at the start of her lecture, encouraging her audience to begin a conversation with their families about writing an advance directive.
Doctors and family members can consult the advance directive in the event that the patient is unable to communicate his or her wishes, whether from a sudden accident or from the advancement of a chronic condition.
Julia Klein, a first-year student at UMD, is currently enrolled in a philosophy of ethics and society class.
“I definitely realized the importance of specifically writing down your last-wish requests regarding what you really want at the end of your life, because you get to that stage and there are family issues going on. Also, current medical standards or laws could really complicate things if you’re not clear about what you want.”
Elliott focused on three primary times in life when an advance directive should be written or updated: at age 50, during any chronic illness, or when it becomes clear that a person is in the last six months of life.
“Our lives happen when we’re making other plans,” Elliott said after the lecture. “It is often that we might entertain personal thoughts about a devastating thing happening to us, like we see in the news or to someone else — to a friend or relative. But, do we ever talk about it so that when it comes our turn — will anyone know what we want? My lecture was really about the importance of talking with friends and family members when you have some thoughts about how you might like to be cared for at the end of life.”
Lara Richardson, a senior majoring in biology and philosophy, said the material covered in the lecture was appropriate for college students to hear, following up on Elliott’s point that advance directives serve a purpose for people at any age.
“We students tend to live higher-risk lifestyles,” said Richardson. “I myself am quite passionate about motorcycles. Knowing the incident rate with motorcycles and everything, it would make sense that I should have a plan of action, should the end of my life come much more abruptly than I’m planning. I wouldn’t want to put my family through the trouble and suffering of having to figure out what to do with me. At least having some sort of indication of what you want to happen would be immensely helpful for the people around you too.”