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Web site keeps living wills accessible

BOISE – Even when people have prepared living wills that specify what treatment they should or should not receive when near death, those documents sometimes can’t be found in an emergency.

Idaho has started a new state registry that allows easy, secure, online access to the living wills and health care directives of Idahoans who voluntarily submit theirs to the registry.

“This is something we feel very strongly about: for folks to get their wishes known to their health care provider, to have people treated with dignity and respect,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

Ysursa’s office is hosting the registry on its Web site,, in cooperation with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

“We think what this would provide is a much better measure for the last wishes of people to be carried out,” Wasden said. “Twenty-four-hour access to this is the key … so it can be properly accessed by the health care providers.”

People who sign up with the registry get a wallet card that gives the Web site along with a user name and password. Just passing that card to a health care provider – even in an emergency that occurs out of state or out of country – will give the provider instant access online to the legal documents.

That will ensure that a patient isn’t kept alive artificially against his or her will, or that the patient receives the kind of treatment he or she wants while dying.

Several other states, including Montana, Arizona and North Carolina, have started similar registries, Ysursa said. .

Joe Gallegos, director of advocacy for AARP Idaho, said, “This kind of registry is not only beneficial to elderly citizens or individuals who may be sick. It’s really a good tool for anybody.”

He pointed to the controversial Terri Schiavo case in Florida, in which a comatose woman’s fate became a battle among her husband, her parents and government officials.

“Had a living will been in place, we would’ve known exactly how Terri wanted to be taken care of,” Gallegos said.

The AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, co-sponsored the legislation to create the new registry this year along with Wasden and Ysursa. The bill, HB 708, passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.

Although the legislation authorizes a fee of up to $10 to file with the registry, Ysursa said at least initially there will be no charge, and he hopes to keep it that way by raising private funds. Other states have gathered donations from health care providers and others to fund their registries.

For anyone who doesn’t yet have a living will or a legal directive called a “durable power of attorney for health care,” simple forms for both are provided on the Web site, along with instructions and explanations. For more information, call the Secretary of State’s office in Boise at (208) 332-2814.