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10 years after Terri Schiavo's death, a reminder of living wills

Yesterday, March 31, was the 10-year anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death. Most of our readers remember the saga of this woman's case, which pitted her husband against the rest of her family. It is a good time to remember how important it is to have a living will as part of your estate plan, to avoid confusion over your medical and end-of-life preferences.

In 1990, Schiavo collapsed in her home. Doctors eventually diagnosed her as being in a persistent vegetative state, which is a sort of wakeful unconscious state, in which the patient is awake but has no cognitive function.

Years later, the fight between Schiavo's husband and her family made national headlines. The husband sought to have Schiavo's feeding tube removed, saying that she had expressed a desire to be allowed to die if she were ever in such a medical condition. On the other side, Schiavo's family fought ending her life, believing that she still had a chance of recovery.

Eventually, Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, and she passed away.

Arguably, one of the reasons this controversy occurred was because Schiavo did not have a living will or appoint a health care surrogate. As we have discussed before in this blog, a living will is a document in which the testator describes how he or she would like to be treated in the event of a catastrophic injury or illness, that leaves him or her unable to communicate.

Another option is to designate a health care surrogate. This is a person you entrust to make health care decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.

With these documents, you can express your desire to have your life prolonged as long as possible, or for no extraordinary measures to be taken, or somewhere in between, if you are ever gravely injured.

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