Today, 42% of American adults have living wills (or advance directives) according to an ABC News poll. This figure is at an all-time high, but experts and advocates aren’t satisfied.
What Can Happen Without a Living Will
In 1990 26 year-old Terri Schiavo, a young married woman living in St. Petersburg, Flor. collapsed in her apartment complex and was found face down, unconscious, with no breathe and no pulse. Schiavo’s husband called 9-1-1 and she was rushed to the hospital. Although doctors were able to restart her heart and breathing, functions which are involuntary, her brain was without oxygen for too long. Schiavo was diagnosed by doctors as being in a “persistent vegetative state”, a condition in which one has no awareness or insight and is largely or totally unresponsive, but still maintains sleep-wake cycles, and can appear awake despite lack of brain activity.
Terri Schiavo physicians tried everything to improve Schiavo’s condition without success. Eight years after Schiavo’s collapse, her husband requested that her feeding tube be removed, prompting a widely publicized legal battle between Schiavo’s husband, who believed that Terri would not want to live in such a condition, and her parents, who believed that she still could recover and that she maintained some small degree of awareness. This sad conflict lasted for seven years. After countless legal proceedings and a controversial attempt by some members of Congress to intervene, Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed in in 2005. She passed away peacefully 7 days later.
This tragic conflict between Terri Schiavo’s loved ones and the distasteful public spectacle it created could have been avoided if Terri Schiavo had created a living will and made her wishes known and document in a legally binding form before her collapse and subsequent incapacitation.
Of course the last thing most 20-somethings have on their mind is writing a living will or thinking about end-of-life care. But Shiavo’s case reminds us of the importance of preparing for a medical crisis no matter what our age.
The Wisdom of Recognizing Life’s Fragility
We all know that some people are fated to be involved bad accidents or to have sudden catastrophic health emergencies, even sometimes in the prime of life, but we tend to think it’s only others who are vulnerable. For many people, recognizing life’s fragility is the most difficult part of creating a living will, but it’s a recognition that gives a wiser and more compassionate perspective, and that helps us to treasure every day on beautiful Earth with the people we love.
A Favor for Your Family
Creating a living will not only assures that you will receive the type of care that you would want (and nothing more than you want), it is also the right thing to do for your family: When you have a living will your family members are spared the agony of making a decision for you without your guidance. It will also go a long way towards preventing a tragic feud resembling that which occurred between Terri Schiavo’s loved ones.
Free Living Wills that Work
You can access free, state-specific living wills at the sites below. Make sure to follow all instructions and file your document with the appropriate local authority.
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