Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack in 1990 resulting in severe brain
damage. She had no mental capacity and very little functional capacity.
Since she couldn't eat or swallow, she was being kept alive using
a feeding tube.
Despite numerous unsuccessful attempts at rehabilitation, Terri's parents
believed she had a consciousness and deserved the chance to live. Terri's
husband Michael, believed she had no consciousness and would not have
wanted to live in the persistent vegetative state that she was in.
Terri did not have an "Advance Health Care Directive" (AHCD),
also known as a "living will", which unfortunately meant that,
the one person who could have conclusively decided her fate Terri herself
An AHCD is typically drafted as part of an overall estate plan and allows
a person to "speak" their wishes when they no longer can. It
allows a person to state their medical wishes, which are to be implemented
by the named agent, usually a spouse or child. Such wishes include whether
they would desire services to reduce discomfort and pain, preferences
against certain procedures, and ultimately, whether they would want life-sustaining
treatment. The document typically includes post-death wishes as well,
such as wishes for certain religious or traditional ceremonies, organ
donation, burial instructions and the disposition of their remains.
Granted, an AHCD addresses issues of our own mortality that people generally
do not want to consider. However, in Terri Schiavo's case and presumably
hundreds more each year that don't receive media attention that document
alone could have allowed Terri's wishes to be heard and avoided years
of heartache for those left behind having to guess.