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University of Iowa News Release


May 6, 2010

Law students discuss end-of-life legal issues with Iowa City Hospice

Talking about death is hard enough, even without bringing up the myriad legal issues it presents.

So when employees and volunteers at Iowa City Hospice wanted to learn more about the legal issues that dying presents, the University of Iowa College of Law helped out. Sheldon Kurtz, a professor of law and expert in health care law, and five students who had taken his health law class recently spent a morning with Hospice volunteers and employees to answer questions.

“We’re a non-profit agency that doesn’t have a lot of money for things like legal education, and we had no readily accessible information we could give to patients or their families when they had legal questions about end-of-life decisions,” said Maggie Elliott, director of Iowa City Hospice.

The presentation was part of the Citizen Lawyer Program, the law school’s community service program that connects students’ community service interests with community needs. Kurtz and Linda McGuire, associate dean of community engagement at the law school, coordinated the service-learning project for Iowa City Hospice.

“This provided students with an opportunity to give a useful service to the community by translating the technical legal language they learned in the classroom and communicate with people who have no legal background,” said Kurtz. “What they learned is that it’s not easy.”

Planning for the presentation began last fall, when students met with employees and volunteers to find out what issues they had questions about. They researched the issues throughout the academic year and made their presentation to about 40 Hospice personnel last week on topics including mandatory reporting of abuse, finances, organ donations and living wills.

“The volunteers and employees were vocal about their concerns and questions, and excited about our presentation,” said Tom Fricton, a second-year law student who was a member of the group. “They asked a lot of questions, and we were pleased with the response.”

“They asked more questions than I expected, and I realized how much we needed a presentation like this,” said Elliott. “The students were professional and thorough and Iowa City Hospice was really the big winner in this.”

The students also wrote and designed three pamphlets that Iowa City Hospice can give to patients and their families with background information about advance directives, finances and organ donation.

Fricton said the presentations gave him a chance to not only provide a public service, but to practice his presentation skills and how to work with clients. He also learned that while a law class teaches a good foundation of legal knowledge, that might not be enough for any given situation.

“We studied all these issues thoroughly and knew it really well for class purposes, but then the questions started coming, and you realize what you don’t know,” he said.

Other students who participated in the presentation were Andrew Koons, a third-year law student, and second-year students Cody Kiroff, Jane Zhi and Jill Sechser.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),