The panel “Six Feet Over, Six Feet Under” Tuesday evening in the Michigan Union featured experts on the laws and measures surrounding death and palliative care — health care directed at making the lives of individuals with a terminal illness feel more comfortable.

The experts dispelled misconceptions surrounding hospice and discussed the importance of advance directives — legal documents specifying actions to be taken on an individual. Advanced directives only apply during life, except in the case of organ donation after death.

Attorney Rebecca Wrock mentioned that putting off advance directives creates many consequences after the death has occurred. 

According to Wrock, this is because a family may have to go to probate court for a guardianship prior to being allowed to make medical decisions for an individual, or receive their medical information, if an advanced directive has not been signed. However, whether one has an advanced directive does not effect how soon they could be seen following death.

Merilynne Rush, a registered nurse, invoked the Sandy Hook tragedy as a prime example of how not attending to advance directives can be devastating to a family.

“This is what the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims had to face,” Rush said. “The parents couldn’t see their children until their bodies were forensically examined by the government.”

Rush also discussed hospice and its role in palliative care. Rush said a common misconception is that hospice is like giving up on life, but it is really about making the last years of a people’s lives more comfortable and even extending their lives.

The panel also discussed how, while it is clear not preparing for such situations could bode consequences for families, many people still avoid them because of their lack of acknowledgement of death.

Wrock said the topic of death makes people uncomfortable, leading them to avoid talking about it. She added that most of the logistics surrounding death and its aftermath are unknown to the public.

Business junior Greg Graham mentioned how important it is for students to have this knowledge as it greatly affects them and their families.

“It affects all of us and our families and there are certainly a lot of people in our college who have grandparents who are starting to go through medical issues,” Graham said. “It would definitely be helpful for students and their families to have this sort of knowledge.”

Correction: this article has been updated to clarify that advanced directives only apply during life, and whether one has an advanced directive will not affect how soon they can be seen after death. 

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