Consumers, providers and professionals gathered in Jefferson City Thursday to address hospice care in prisons, legal issues for the seriously ill and palliative care for the developmentally disabled. Reg Turnbull is the director of the Coalition.

He says society continues to age, and with that comes unique legal and ethical challenges. The End of Life Coalition is addressing the fact that the healthcare industry is evolving to meet demand, but some state policies are not.

Turnbull says there’s a problem right now with mentally disabled patients who are dying from a terminal illness. He says the End of Life Coalition will lobby legislators to change the current law so the physicians and guardians of mentally retarded patients can sign off on Do Not Resuscitate orders — not just the Department of Mental Health.

Another issue the Coalition addressed was the fact that Missouri has not adopted a surragacy law, which would let patients choose a surrogate to make decisions for them should they become terminally ill, permanently unconsciousness, or become the victim of an ultimately fatal illness that imposes an inhumane burden.

Whether violent criminals have rights on how to die, or not to die alone, was another topic approached. Many states are implementing hospice care in prisons, headed largely by inmate volunteers. Pilot programs have shown that violence levels decrease, hardened criminals can be tender and compassionate, and those who die in prisons can do so peacefully, even with their families by their side.

Jessica Machetta reports [Listen Mp3, 1:16 min.]