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June 1, 2011

6 Years Later – The Terri Schiavo Case Still Serves to Highlight the Need for a Living Will

In Florida, the memory of Terri Schiavo remains a poignant lesson about the need for a living will. On February 25, 1990, Terri collapsed in a hallway of her St. Petersburg, Florida, apartment and never awoke again. What followed was 14 appeals, numerous motions, petitions, and hearings in the Florida courts; five suits in federal district court; Florida legislation struck down by the Supreme Court of Florida; a subpoena by a congressional committee to qualify Schiavo for witness protection; federal legislation; and four denials to hear the case from the Supreme Court of the United States. Given her lack of a living will, these court proceedings were necessary to determine what Terri’s wishes would have been regarding life-prolonging procedures.

A living will is a legal instrument that instructs medical professionals as to whether a person wishes to receive artificial life support if they fall into an irreversible coma, an end-stage condition, or persistent vegetative state. Its purpose is to outline specific directives for medical care. A living will may also provide for the appointment of a health care surrogate. A health care surrogate is a person who is designated to make medical decision on another’s behalf in the event they are unable to make these decisions for themselves. It is also possible to establish an alternate surrogate in case the initial person is unable to serve in this capacity. Like other wills, a living will can be revoked at any time.

A living will is an essential legal document that can be obtained from an experienced estate planning attorney. Whatever one’s opinion may be regarding the appropriateness of artificial life prolonging measures, we all owe it to our family to discuss these issues and make our position clear through the use of a living will. Contact Ourednik Law Offices today to discuss your living will with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.