Schiavo Case Prompts More Living Wills

By MITCH STACY, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 30, 2:15 PM ET
 

Tulie Taylor, her husband and other members of her family argued last year over whether Terri Schiavo should have been allowed to live or die. But they all came to agree on one thing — none of them wanted it to happen to them.

After watching the sad right-to-die dispute that gripped the nation, the 45-year-old Tallahassee woman and her three siblings signed documents that would tell caregivers what to do if any of them ended up like the severely brain-damaged Schiavo.

"Ultimately, it was difficult to discuss the Schiavo case because in the end we all chose sides," Taylor said. "So we decided not to discuss the Schiavo case, and we turned it around to be about us."

Friday marks one year since Schiavo's death. Many advocates say the case has led to a sharp increase since then in the number of Americans signing living wills and end-of-life directives, or at least discussing the what-ifs with their loved ones.

Visits to the Internet site for the U.S. Living Will Registry — where advance directives can be stored for quick access by doctors and family members — increased from 500 a day to 50,000 a day when the Schiavo case was in the headlines last year. It has leveled off to about 2,500 day, but the number of registered documents is up to 40,000 from 10,000 a year ago.

"It basically brought the whole idea of advance directives and living wills into the national consciousness," said Joseph Barmakian, president of Living Will Registry. "Everyone said, `We don't want that to happen to us, and more importantly, we don't want that to happen to our family.' That's the one good thing that came out of a very tragic case."

Terri Schiavo died March 31, 2005, at age 41 in a Florida hospice, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed by court order. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, fought her husband, Michael Schiavo, in court for seven years to keep him from cutting off artificial feeding so she could die.

She had no written advance directive when she collapsed in 1990. But Michael Schiavo contended his wife once told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially with no hope of recovery. Court after court affirmed his right to let his wife his die.

The Schindlers doubted whether their daughter expressed such a wish, and they believed she might get better with therapy. They enlisted the support of Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush, the Florida Legislature and Congress.

Michael Schiavo, in an interview with The Associated Press this week, said one his goals as he promotes his book, "Terri: The Truth," is to become the "face of living wills."

"People need to talk," he said. "They need to talk about dying. Everybody is going to die, and it's OK to talk about it. We need to put it in writing. Even if you choose that you would want to remain alive in Terri's condition, you need to write that down."

For the Schindlers' part, they recommend in their book — titled "A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Terri Schiavo — A Lesson for Us All" — that people grant a health-care power-of-attorney to a reliable person.

Aging With Dignity, a nonprofit group, publishes a document called "Five Wishes" that people can use to legally declare whether they want to be kept alive artificially and what kind of treatment they want and don't want.

Demand for the document spiked as the Schiavo case was raging, said the organization's president, Paul Malley said. Some 2 million were distributed in 2005, about double the previous year. A year after Schiavo's death, requests are still running double what they were in 2004.

"I think the Schiavo case gave people a sense of urgency," Malley said. "And it also showed that you don't have to be old and sick to have these conversations. The common misperception is that you don't have to talk about these things unless you're near the end of your life."

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On the Net:

U.S. Living Will Registry: http://www.uslivingwillregistry.com

Aging with Dignity: http://www.agingwithdignity.org

Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation: http://www.terrisfight.org