UI students learn end-of-life planning with Honoring Your Wishes program


Planning for death comes at the end of a life, right?

Not always —University of Iowa students in a class have begun to take a closer look at what they would want at the end of their lives in the pursuit to better understand death and how it affects all those involved.

Death and Dying — a class in the School of Social Work — is participating in a program called Honoring Your Wishes for the first time. This program is under the leadership of the Iowa City Hospice.

“In America, we have this idea of invisible death,” said Karli Jacobsen, a UI senior enrolled in the course. “Nobody really talks about it. So the whole point of the class is to get educated about the different kinds of death.”

The goal of the program is to consider what people would want if they were suddenly ill or injured and could not communicate. If the person chooses to, the end result is an advanced-care directive, a legal document in Iowa. The choices made beforehand must be followed.

“This is a way to ensure that people’s health-care preferences are honored and to also relieve family stress at a time of crisis,” said Jane Dohrmann, the director of Honoring Your Wishes.

The students in the class are only required to attend one meeting with an advanced-care planning facilitator, beginning the discussion of their future wishes. Students are also asked to think about whom they would want as their health-care agent — the person who makes the decisions when they are unable.

“You can’t cheat death,” said UI senior Victoria Castillo, a student enrolled in the course. “It’s going to happen. So you might as well be prepared for it.”

Many students take the class because they believe the knowledge they gain will help them in their future careers.

“I don’t really have very much experience with death, and with my field, I am going to come across death a lot,” Castillo said, who is majoring in social work. “I think it would be really nice to be able to have those open conversations I’ve never had before — before I have to do it with a client.”

The two students all plan on continuing the program after their required meeting is finished.

Anyone can speak at no cost with a volunteer advanced-care facilitator as long as they are 18 years old.

“I recommend this process for anyone 18 or older because we don’t know when we might have a sudden illness or injury and not be able to communicate,” Dohrmann said. “This process ensures that there is a person in place that you would want to speak on your behalf. Otherwise, it’s by default whom the medical personal might contact.”

Jacobsen said it can be hard to think about death at such a young age, but once the topic is brought up, it can be a relief.

“Starting the conversation would probably be the hardest — once you start thinking about it, it’s not as hard,” Jacobsen said. “It’s relieving for me because I know I’m putting stress off [my loved one’s] lives if this were to happen.”

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