Last Updated: November 30, 2017
An ABC News poll reports that 42% of American adults have advance directives or living wills. This figure is at an all-time high, but experts aren’t satisfied.
The Importance of Having a Living Will
In 1990, 26-year-old Terri Schiavo, a young married woman living in St. Petersburg, Florida collapsed in her apartment complex and was found face down, unconscious, with no pulse. Schiavo’s husband called 9-1-1 and she was rushed to the hospital. Though doctors were able to restart her heart, 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.
Schiavo’s physicians tried everything to improve her 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 she 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 many 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 seven days later.
This tragic conflict between Schiavo’s loved ones and the distasteful public spectacle it created could have been avoided if she had made her wishes known in a legal will before her collapse and subsequent incapacitation.
Of course, the last thing most of us have on our minds 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 our age.
Ways to Create a Living Will
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.
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.