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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Schiavo case brings wills to forefront

If there is anything to learn from the Terri Schiavo case–it’s to get it in writing.

The legal and moral debate surrounding the current case of Schiavo has sparked millions of people to make themselves aware of their life’s final intentions.

The brain-damaged Florida woman has brought increased interest to end-of-life decisions and living wills; not what material objects and property one wishes to pass on, rather deciding what methods of prolonging life suit personal desires.

A living will states a person does not want to prolong life by extraordinary means or by a feeding tube if the condition is irreversible, incurable or the person is considered in a persistent vegetative state.

“We have to guard against the wishes and desires of the person and what they intend for themselves,” Dr. Steven Ludd said, a professor of Political Science.

In the Schiavo case, she did not have a living will. As a result, the 41-year-old woman’s parents and husband have fought over the issue in court. Two rulings backed her husband’s stance not to reinsert a feeding tube that would keep Schiavo alive, but her parents wanted to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

The young woman died yesterday, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed.

If anything comes out of this, Ludd said, more than the current 23 percent of America’s population will draw up a living will.

“We have to be able to memorialize our intentions and make sure our desires are followed through,” Ludd said.

Several local attorneys said they have not seen dramatic increases for living will demands, however, some reports suggest Internet Web sites have brought millions of increased attention. But Ludd said a living will is just one element. He suggests a health-care power of attorney, a general will and a durable power of attorney.

“It is always good to have an attorney look over the will and make sure it fits you–and to make sure it is enforceable in your state,” he said.

According to the Ohio Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, these advance directives include the living will, health care power of attorney, Ohio’s do-not-resuscitate law and organ and tissue donation. All to be prepared in advance in the event the person becomes unable to speak for him or herself, they are protected and their wishes followed.

Some physicians and Web sites offer those documents for free. They require two uninvolved witnesses and have to be notarized.

“The dilemma is when you don’t have your wants and intent in writing,” Ludd said. “Then those fighting for you go to probate court.”

Ohio does provide some protection for people without living wills.

First, the attending physician determines if the patient is incurable or in a persistent vegetative state. The attending physician then needs a second opinion. If there is no living will, the first person with authority is the holder of the health-care power of attorney, then the legal guardian, spouse, children and parents. But, without a living will, family members could disagree about what to do, as in the Schiavo case.

Ludd said he hopes the University uses this case as an example also, and even begin to offer a living will option for students. He hopes to use Student Legal Services and the option would be included in student general fees.

“The bottom line is that it is tough to sit back and think for your loved ones and family, when you think you are immortal,” he said. “But when you’re in a vegetative state, what do you want to happen to you and who do you appoint to speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself?”

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