Some watched for 13 days, some for nearly 15 years as Terri Schiavo’s right to life — or right to death — was debated in court, in church and in Congress.
In the end, the courts won.
“Without documentation, it’s up to a judge to decide who has proven the person’s desire, and it’s very expensive,” Craig Attorney Sherman Romney said.
The amount of publicity about Schiavo’s case has driven some people into his office looking to have a living will completed, Romney said.
“I think more people have been made aware of the issue and how important it is,” he said. “It was gut-wrenchingly hard for the whole country to watch, I think.”
Schiavo suffered a brain injury when she was in her mid-20s. Fifteen years later, she died of dehydration after her feeding tube was removed by order of a judge.
She did not have a living will — also referred to as an advanced directive. Schiavo’s parents and her husband fought a bitter court battle, each professing a knowledge of what Schiavo would have wanted.
Legal experts say that the entire court battle could have been avoided if Schiavo had properly documented her wishes before her collapse.
Before the Schiavo case became highly visible, an estimated 20 percent of Americans had living wills. Some think that this will be the push Americans need to make their end-of-life wishes known.
A number of entities have reported an upswing in requests for forms or other information about living wills. The nonprofit organization Aging with Dignity said it has received thousands of calls and e-mails about living wills. The Westfield, N.J.-based U.S. Living Will Directory national registry reported the number of hits on their Web site went from about 500 to 600 per day to well over 5,000. Others, such as lawyers, hospitals, and state bar associations, have also seen an increased interest in living wills.
Romney said that filling out an advanced medical directive is generally part of any attorney-led will creation, but it isn’t the only option. Forms are available at hospitals, libraries and on the Internet. It typically is a simple form, Romney said, on which two decisions are made: Do you want machines turned off if you are pronounced brain dead, and if machines are turned off, do you want artificial nourishment to continue?
“When you sign, you’re stating your directive to your doctor,” Romney said.
He suggested that people give copies to their doctors and keep a copy with their important papers.
At 73, Alvin Lawton thinks it’s about time he got moving on a living will and a will.
“I’ve been gonna make one out, but I haven’t gotten around to it,” he said.
“It’d be kind of a shame to be that way and starve to death. It looks like there’d be a better way to go.”
But Lawton doesn’t feel too much pressure. He “was nearly shot in half” in Korea. He thinks he has time.
That’s not the case for Linda Leinweber, whose advanced directive is on file. So is her husband’s.
“I strongly believe everyone should have one,” she said. “It’s always been something that’s been very important to me. I don’t want someone else making those kinds of decisions for me.”
Leinweber works as a financial counselor at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs and said she has seen an increased number of people asking about living wills since Schiavo’s case made headlines.
“I think it’s caused a lot of interest and has made a lot of people think about what they’d do in that situation.”
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