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NC and SC Estate Planning and Elder Law Firm

Monday, October 22, 2018

Remembering Terri Schiavo

Each generation lives through a number of events that its members will never forget. The older generation remembers Pearl Harbor and the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Boomers remember the day JFK was shot and the OJ Simpson murder case. Generation X vividly recalls 9/11. Each of these events defined the generation and shaped how they view the world and the legal system.

Despite their differences, members of each of these generations often mention the same person during their estate planning meetings — Terri Schiavo. Terri Schiavo’s compelling and tragic story captured the nation’s attention, and is something that is hard to forget.

Terri Schiavo was a young bookkeeper in Florida who was married to the man of her dreams. When she was just 26, she went into cardiac arrest and collapsed in her St. Petersburg home. Her husband called 911, and first responders were able to successfully resuscitate her, but lack of oxygen to her brain had caused massive brain damage which left her comatose.

Despite undergoing extensive therapy and testing, her condition did not improve. Her doctors determined she was in a persistent vegetative state. Eight years after her initial illness, Terri’s husband petitioned the court to remove her feeding tube, as allowed by Florida law. Terri’s parents strongly objected, but the court ruled that Schiavo would not have wished to continue living in the state that she was in.

From then until her death in 2005, her feeding tube was removed and replaced multiple times. The dispute between her husband and her parents was heard in several courts, and discussed and debated my numerous political figures, including President George W. Bush. Ultimately, her feeding tube was removed and she died a few days later.

Both the pro-life and the dignity-at-death movements have used Schiavo’s story to advance their own agendas and push for the law to be changed to suit their preferences. From our perspective, the way to honor Terri Schiavo is to to politicize her life, but to remember what happened to her and learn from it. We recommend crafting an estate plan that includes a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will so that what happened to her does not happen again to you or anyone you love.

A durable power of attorney for health care is a document that names the person or people you want to have the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you should become incapacitated. The person or people have full legal authority to decide on treatments and end of life care, but only if you are not able to make decisions yourself. You continue to control your own health care until you are no longer able to do so.

Those granted power of attorney often appreciate the guidance that is given in a living will. A living will informs others of your preferred medical treatments. It can be as general or specific as you would like.

These documents are the best option available if you want to control your own destiny, keep your family members from fighting, and keep your private affairs out of the public eye if you become incapacitated.

 


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