Professionals who help with end-of-life care say people need to know how important it is to make the topic a family discussion — particularly when it comes to legal concerns.

Toronto elder rights lawyer Judith Wahl will speak at workshop in Sudbury Wednesday with the aim to help doctors, palliative care workers and families learn more about how to make end-of-life plans with an aging person.

"It can only help to have the conversations at all these different levels," Wahl said.

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Not all doctors know about the legal aspects of dying, according to a lawyer who will be giving a presentation on the issue in Sudbury on Wednesday. (istock)

"We wanted to show that it’s not just the law — it’s good medical practice. It’s not, you know, ‘Oh yeah, we got to follow this piece of legislation.’ It’s good health care."

Wahl noted families are often intimidated by end-of-life planning, and doctors may not be adequately trained to deal with the legal aspects of dying.

A family doctor from New Liskeard also travelled to Sudbury for the workshop, to share advice on having what he calls the "this is how I want to die" talk.

Appreciating what a patient wants

Dr. Andre Hurtubise said he has seen the wishes of a patient conflict with the wishes of his or her family, and sometimes at the most difficult of times.

"When there is no more quality of life … it is not fair to keep these people alive," Hurtubise said.

"Families sometimes don't appreciate [what the] patient want[s] … at the end of life."

He added that it’s not fair for the court have to make that decision because, "no matter what, they'll never please both sides."

Hurtubise said families also need to prepare for the reality that doctors may not understand the legal side of elderly consent, even when a family has discussed a loved-one's wishes.

Do Not Resuscitate [DNR] forms can be confusing, he added — something about which Wahl has also heard unnerving stories.

She cited one example where a family’s mother was in intense pain due a rotten tooth. Medical professionals didn’t do anything about it because they interpreted a DNR order as "do not treat," she said.

Hurtubise and Wahl both said they hope the workshop will help keep families and medical professionals on the same page.