Your Life, Your Final Say

By now, most of America is familiar with the tragic events of Terri Schiavo’s life. No matter how you may feel about the moral and political issues that have arisen, most Americans would agree that they would not want their families to suffer through the 15-year ordeal that Terri and her family endured.  Fortunately, there are means within easy reach of any American to plan for end-of-life medical decisions.

Born to Mary and Robert Schindler on December 3, 1963, Theresa Marie Schindler had a typical, happy childhood. The Pennsylvania native enjoyed spending time with her two siblings, listening to music and drawing sketches. In November 1984, at just under 21 years of age, Terri married Michael Schiavo. By age 26, Terri was employed and living in Florida with her husband.

Sadly, it was at this age that Terri’s life took a devastating turn. In February 1990, Terri suffered a heart attack that deprived her brain of oxygen for five minutes, damaging it severely. She slipped into what doctors call a “persistent vegetative state,” in which she lost the brain functions that control judgment and reason. She could not communicate and her only movements were minor reflexes. Terri could not even survive without the assistance of a feeding tube.

For many years, Terri’s husband and parents requested that Terri be kept alive by the artificial feeding tube, hoping that she would recuperate to some degree. However, by 1998 Terri still showed no signs of improvement. Michael Schiavo decided to request removal of the feeding tube, explaining that Terri would not want to continue being kept alive for years and years in this condition. Her parents disagreed, clinging to the hope that one day their daughter would recover, even minimally.

The ensuing legal battle over Terri’s right to die engulfed not only their family, but the state of Florida and the entire nation. For seven agonizing years both parties struggled to convince the courts that they knew best what Terri would have wanted. State courts consistently ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo, but the Schindlers appealed again, and again, and again.

While such cases are normally the province of state courts, Congress enacted special legislation to allow the case to be brought before federal courts. In fact, the President flew back to Washington to sign the legislation. However, the federal courts refused to reverse the state court’s order.

The most important lesson from Terri’s case is that every adult should make a proper legal document expressing his or her wishes about end-of-life medical care with the assistance of an estate planning lawyer in Palatine, IL.  The remainder of this report will discuss the basic legal documents to do this, and how you and your loved ones can protect yourselves.

 Thanks to Bott & Associates, Ltd. for their insight into estate planning and wills.