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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Bill would change who can make end-of-life decisions in Michigan

Vu Bui

Friends, partners or neighbors in Michigan who make legal medical decisions for a person when alive are not allowed the same right when the person passes away.

House Bill 5162 would change that by allowing someone who is not related to the individual to be designated as his or her funeral representative.

Anita Clos, assistant director of medical social work at the University of Michigan, says social workers witness the trauma families experience because of the way current law works.

She talks about a case where a patient died and that person's caregiver was not allowed to sign for final disposition.

"When I actually had to track down the next of kin legally, the family was outraged and said, 'Why would we shame this person like that who takes care of our patient for so long,'" she points out. "And that was the person who should be making the final arrangements,"

HB 5162 requires the designation of a non-relative representative be written, signed, witnessed, and acknowledged by a public notary.

Clos says the bill was introduced by Rep. Kate Segal and is currently stalled in committee.

Michigan is only one of a handful of states that doesn't allow a non-relative designation to be carried over from the medical power of attorney.

Clos says as life expectancy continues to increase it is not uncommon for adults to outlive their spouses, siblings and even their children.

"So many people do outlive their family members and have to rely on friends," she says. "Even in my career I've seen neighbors helping someone as their power of attorney for health care."

She adds that many families live in different parts of the country, and may be disconnected or unfamiliar with the wishes of the deceased.

Under current law, a person's wishes may be written in a will, but next of kin may override that.