If you’re old enough, you may remember hearing about the horrific battle over the life of a 26-year old St. Petersburg, Florida, woman, Terry Schiavo. Terry collapsed on February 25, 1990 from undetermined causes, and although she was eventually resuscitated, she suffered severe brain injury due to lack of oxygen and never regained consciousness. Her husband of six years, Michael, and parents, the Schindlers, were on the same side for a while – taking a wait-and-see attitude, seeking all options and hoping that Terry would recover.
But the majority of doctors who examined her saw no medically reasonable probability of recovery, and she was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state within weeks of the collapse. While Terry was able to breathe on her own, nutrition and hydration had to be administered through artificial means. After eight years, Michael thought it was time to let Terry go since he believed she wouldn’t want to exist indefinitely in this condition. The Schindlers, devout Catholics, disagreed vehemently, accusing Michael of various bad acts and claiming he wanted her dead so he could move on with his life. They believed that Terry would want to be kept alive no matter what, and that she wasn’t permanently unconscious and could recover with therapy.
And so the court battles began. For seven years, the Schindlers and Michael fought. The “death debate” made its way into the courts, the FL legislature, the FL Governor’s mansion, the U.S. Congress, the Oval Office, the Supreme Court, the Vatican, and our living rooms. Finally, a Florida judge agreed with Michael and ordered that Terry’s feeding tube be removed. She died on March 31, 2005.
The autopsy couldn’t determine exactly what had caused Terry to collapse, but the report showed that her brain was severely atrophied and weighed about half what it should have. The examination revealed extensive damage to nearly all brain regions, including the cerebral cortex, the thalamus, the basal ganglia, the hippocampus, the cerebellum, and the midbrain. According to the report, the damage was “irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons.” She was completely blind because that part of her brain had been destroyed. She’d been unconscious the entire time and would never have woken up. Doctors also concluded that while Schiavo was alive, her brain stem was reflexively regulating the bare essentials of life, such as her heartbeat, breathing and digestive processes.
The Schindlers and many others still don’t accept the medical findings and view Terry’s death as murder.
The death debate continues today – everyone has his or her own views, and opinions can be divided within a family. This emotional debate that can tear families apart is what we try to prevent with a Florida Living Will. It’s a legal document that states what you desire to happen if you end up in a horrific situation like this. It’s basically your written declaration to die a natural death – no artificial life support, tube feeding or hydration, etc. – rather than merely existing. If Terry had executed a Living Will, of her own volition, none of this would have happened.
As long as you’re alive and have mental capacity, you still have the chance to take this awful decision off your loved ones’ shoulders by executing a Living Will.
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Ready to make sure everything’s in order for your loved ones in the event you become incapacitated or die? Give Manasota Elder Law a call at 941-444-5958. We’ll help you determine whether you’re all set, or whether there are still some things that need to be done to protect what’s most important to you … your family.