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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA law professor lectures students about death

    Kenney Hegland has been a law professor at the UA for 30 years. He obtained his undergraduate degree at Stanford University and received his Bachelor of Law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. In his class, Law and the Elderly (LAW 684), Hegland presents his students with some ironically vital information for both students and their families.

    Wildcat: You ask your law students whether or not they have had end-of-life conversations with their parents. Why?

    Hegland: The reason I ask the question is that very few people have that conversation. A lot of people say that’s not our culture, but you go around the room, and in a law school, there are representatives from almost every culture, so it seems to be very uncommon. …We have this book, Robert Fleming and I, “”Alive and Kicking: Legal Advice for Boomers.”” (Editor’s note: Fleming is a Tucson attorney.) …One of the themes of the book is that it’s very important for families to have conversations about end-of-life matters simply because it is something on everybody’s mind, but very few people are comfortable talking about it. Once they get beyond things like (death), it frees up other conversations.

    W: How can people start these conversations?

    H: We suggest that people sit down and write their own (living will) and at the end of it, ask their families to read it and sign it. …The hard part is getting started. …People always think that things are going to be worse than they turn out to be. When you get into positions, your attitudes towards things change, so this will be an ongoing conversation. But once it’s out there, it will be no more difficult to start it up again than (talking) about the Super Bowl.

    W: Why do you recommend this personal letter about end-of-life arrangements in addition to a living will?

    Once you realize your mortality, with or without near-death
    experiences, I think that it can liberate you.

    – Kenny Hegland,
    law professor

    H: One of the problems with living wills is that a lot of people don’t pay a lot of attention to them. What determines the outcome (of a critically injured person) is not the living will but the family that is there. And if the family is clear on what the person wants, then they can say stop the treatment. As opposed to when you’re there, it’s a hard thing to stop the treatment. …When it comes down to it, these kinds of conversations can prevent that. …When mom and dad die most of the fights among family members are not about money, but about who gets what. And you can prevent so much of that by being clear (about what you and your family members’ death wishes are). …Living wills are OK, but it’s not the same thing to check off boxes as it is to sit down and write, because that really slows your mind up. And then again we have the family read it over and understand it and sign it. It’s good to have a living will, but it’s much better to have (the letter). The other important thing to have is a designated healthcare power of attorney, who will make the decisions if you can’t.

    W: When do you think students should have these conversations?

    H: Yesterday. We put a lot of energy, everyday, into the denial of (death). In the book “”Tuesdays with Morrie,”” (author Mitch Albom) writes that once you really realize mortality, then you can really start living. …Once you realize your mortality, with or without near-death experiences, I think that it can liberate you. So these conversations are important to open up (new) conversations between kids and their parents.

    W: As a final question, did you and your family have this conversation when you were growing up?

    H: No (smiles). It wasn’t part of my culture.

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