Lessons of Terri Schiavo Case Still to Be Learned

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), May 2, 2006 | Go to article overview

Lessons of Terri Schiavo Case Still to Be Learned


Byline: Todd Peterson

Thirteen months ago, Terri Schiavo died in a Florida hospice after a seven-year legal battle - the longest-running right-to-die case ever in the United States. The protesters, politicians, preachers, judges and reporters have moved on to the life (and death) issues of their own lives.

But the bitter quarrel between Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo, and her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, continues in two recently published books.

In "A Life That Matters," the Schindlers write that "many people believe that a living will or some form of advanced health care directive is the answer to the tragedies in life such as Terri suffered. The secular media, which consistently wrote of Terri's plight as an 'end-of-life' issue, which it was not, advised everybody to run out to create living wills. However, living wills are increasingly unenforceable. 'Futile care committees' in medical facilities across the country are overriding them every day."

Terri's parents go on to say that, "Even so, a more effective route to pursue regarding your health care wishes is to grant a reliable person - preferably not a spouse or loved one, who might be too emotionally involved - a health care power of attorney."

In "Terri: The Truth," Michael Schiavo says, "What matters is whether people learned anything that will make their life, or that of their loved ones, better. If the only legacy of Schiavo is bitterness that whichever side you're on didn't win, then Terri's loss is more tragic than I could have possibly imagined."

For Schiavo, "It's relatively easy to say that one lesson has to do with end-of-life directives, living wills, durable powers of attorney for health care - they go by many names, and each one means something a bit different. If you don't have one, and if everyone you know over the age of 17 doesn't have one, you didn't learn much from Schiavo. Our ugliest battles were fought because Terri hadn't expressed her wishes in writing. Had she done so, odds are you wouldn't know her name."

Adding fuel to the Schiavo controversy, just six months after Terri's death, the President's Council on Bioethics questioned the usefulness of advance directives in its report "Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society."

The bioethics council contended that precise circumstances at the end of life cannot be foretold; that advance directives often do not get transmitted to doctors and hospitals; and that the documents, even when available, do not have much effect on decision-making by surrogates.

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Lessons of Terri Schiavo Case Still to Be Learned
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