The Terri Schiavo case in Florida has brought a very personal and tragic issue under the scrutiny of the public eye. Whether you side with the husband or the parents regarding life-sustaining measures, you probably agree that the Schiavo’s situation is heartbreaking for all involved.
Fortunately for those of us looking in from the outside, this type of situation is preventable. Faced with the startling questions of life, death and the letter of the law in the Schiavo’s case, most Americans are probably trying to answer troubling questions of their own.
What would you want if you were in Terri Schiavo’s situation? Would your family know what you want? Who would you trust to make decisions for you?
While discussing the Schiavo case with family and friends, I hope you take the time to think about these questions and share your answers with those you love. In fact, I challenge you to put them in writing by preparing advance directives.
Advance directives are documents that spell out how you wish to spend your final days. They provide a way for you to outline your desires regarding life-sustaining treatment, artificial nutrition and hydration, and hospice care. They also allow you to appoint a health care proxy—a family member or friend to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so.
If Terri Schiavo had an advance directive in place, there we would be no question of what she wanted.
No questions, no arguments, less heartache. It sounds so simple, yet less than 20 percent of Americans have prepared advance directives. Our death-defying society avoids conversations such as these until illness knocks on their own door, when it is often too late as it is for Terri Schiavo.
Whether you are 25, in the prime of health, or 95 and facing the typical signs of aging, the time is right for advance directives.
You will have the assurance that your wishes are known should disease or injury reduce your ability to communicate. And just as importantly, you will spare your family the emotional turmoil and guilt that comes with making these decisions on their own.
If you’re not sure where to start, take advantage of the resources available to help you:
• The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers booklets to help with advance directives. You can order a copy by visiting their Web site at www.nhpco.org.
• Partnership for Caring offers state-specific advance directive documents with instructions on how to complete the forms. Their pamphlet "Talking About Your Choices" also explains many of the issues surrounding end-of-life decision making.
To order these resources, call (800) 989-9455 or visit www.partnershipforcaring.org.
• Heartland Care Hospice will provide a free advance planning consult for your family or organization. Call (405) 495-2622 to schedule an appointment.
While Terri Schiavo’s family grieve the circumstances they face, let their pain be a positive force in your life — a call to action to save your own family a similar grief.