George Phillips has his death planned out. His wife Betty has planned hers. They have filled out an advance directive, outlining how they want to die.continue at NPR
Their neighbors across the street have filled out the same paperwork, as has the family next door. In fact, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, you're unusual if you don't have a plan for your death. Some 96 percent of people who die in La Crosse have an advance directive or similar documentation. Nationally, only about 30 percent of adults have a document like that.
In this community, talking about death is a comfortable conversation — neighbors gossip about who on the block hasn't filled out their advance directive.
It's become such a comfortable conversation basically because of one guy in town. Bud Hammes works as a medical ethicist at a local hospital called Gundersen Health System. For years, he was called when someone's dad had a stroke, was in a coma, on machines. Bud would sit down with the family and try to help them figure out what to do next. And every time, he says, the discussion was excruciating.