Why Terri Schiavo has the nation talking about Living Wills

Why Terri Schiavo has the nation talking about Living Wills

by Susan Funaro, December 2009

Terri Schiavo has been on everyone's lips for months. Her fate became a bitter battle on every front imaginable: political, legal, and religious. Yet, her story had a great impact on the American consciousness, as it led innumerable people to prepare their own living wills.

The question is: what is a living will and, why is it imperative to have one?

The Schiavo Case

With no living will, Terri's own wishes were interpreted and reinterpreted over the last 12 years of her life. The conflict had always centered on carrying out Terri's wishes. Would she have wished to die with dignity and not linger in a persistent vegetative state as her husband contends? Or, did Terri wish to fight for any chance of life, in any condition, as alleged by her parents?

The once tight-knit family has been bitterly divided over Terri's condition. Both her husband and her parents have had to endure great emotional pain, years of legal battles and now public scrutiny. Even still, Michael Schiavo and his own immediate family have been threatened.

Without a living will, one question will always loom in the minds of many: did Terri Schiavo receive the care and ultimately the type of death she would have wanted?

What are Living Wills?

A living will is simply a legal directive which instructs how much artificial life support you wish to receive if you fall into an irreversible coma or persistent vegetative state. It outlines very specific directives for medical care.

A living will also provides for the appointment of a guardian or health care surrogate. A health care surrogate is a person you designate to make medical decision on your behalf in the event you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. You can also establish an alternate surrogate in case your first choice is unable to serve in that capacity.

Like any will, a living will can be revoked at any time. You can revoke it by destroying it or by communicating to a witness, an attending physician or other health care provider that you revoke it.

But, Why have a Living Will?

The Schiavo case illustrates the heartache and legal wrangling that can take place without a legal directive. A living will provides written directives and documentation to ensure your wishes are executed, the person you wish to represent your interests is not challenged, your family and loved ones are spared doubt, guilt and divisiveness, along with emotional pain, and undue legal expenses.

More than ever, individuals need to be scrupulous about having a written directive readily available so that their choices are carried out and their loved ones are spared as much pain as possible.