Will wishes: Don't be Terri Schiavo
Where there's a will, there's a way... to die. But if you're one of the millions of Americans who don't have a living will, you just might end up like Terri Schiavo– vegetative– while around you your loved ones tear each other to shreds, fighting over your fate.
"I can sum it up in two words," says local attorney Simon Stapleton, who specializes in end-of-life legal issues including living wills. "Get one."
Stapleton says he sees cases like Schiavo's on a "fairly regular basis.
"Folks don't have the information in place," he says, "and it's tragic."
Of the Schiavo case, Stapleton says he "feels horrible for the family." But, he points out, there may be a silver lining.
"If it gets other folks to get their ducks in a row," he explains, "maybe some good will come of this."
In fact, since the Schiavo case has made headlines, Stapleton says he's seen a "noticeable" increase in the number of calls he receives requesting living wills. And they're not just from the elderly or infirm. Healthy people of all ages should have one, he recommends.
The cost of a living will is minimal– Stapleton estimates $100 to have a lawyer draw one up. But if that is too steep, he points out that both Martha Jefferson Hospital and UVA Medical Center have advance medical directives available for free download from their websites.
What's the difference between a living will and an advance medical directive?
A living will directs "when to pull the plug," says Stapleton. An advance medical directive appoints a family member or friend to make your medical decisions should you become unable to do so. It also includes a "living will" portion.
And for people who fear that a loved one could turn on them in their most desperate hours– as some have suggested Michael Schiavo is doing to his wife, Terri– Stapleton says it's highly unlikely.
"That's not a situation I've ever seen in 20 years of practicing law," he says. "Doctors and hospitals bend over backward to make sure there's nothing more that can be done before they will diagnose and tell the family that this is terminal."
COURTESY THE SCHINDLER-SCHIAVO FAMILY
[Terri Shiavo's first name was misspelled in the print version of this story; it has been corrected in this online edition.]