I don’t have a whole lot to contribute to the ongoing saga on the Terri Schaivo case down in Florida. As a Registered Nurse who has spent 13 years practicing in the area of palliative care and end-of-life – I can understand, sympathize and appreciate both sides of the case. Too many times to count, I have been involved in cases like this. Cases not quite as notorious or nationally publicized — but quiet cases battled out in the hearts and minds of families facing these very same issues and decisions.
In my practice, it is all about what the patient wants. Not about what the parents want. Not about what the kids want or what your friends want. It’s certainly not about what a judge or a lawyer wants – and most definitely not about what Congress wants, or what a bunch of bloggers want, who don’t know the patient and didn’t give a rip about the patient’s life until the patient became the national cause of the moment.
Decisions like these are intimate. That is why having a legal document expressing your wishes at the end of your life is so vitally important. As I said, I can equally appreciate both sides of the Terri Schaivo case. The lesson that it should teach each and every single person who is paying attention to it is this – communicate your desires before it’s too late. It’s a document called a a living will. It is what will speak for you when you are unable to speak for yourself.
Another very smart thing to do is to draft up a very simple document called a Power of Attorney – – it is a document whereby you have designated a single person – – and a secondary designee – – to speak for you and your medical needs when you are so debilitated that you cannot speak for yourself, and/or cannot make decisions for yourself.
These two documents, which can be drafted up within a matter of hours, can and will give you peace of mind to know that if you are ever in a situation like Terri Schaivo – there will be no intervening courts, lawyers, family members, bloggers or acts of Congress that can stand between you and how you wish to leave this world.
I have both documents drafted. It clearly states my wishes. If I am in a persistent vegetative state, with no hope of recovery – pull the plug. No artificial anything. That includes ventilators, feeding tubes or any other artificial means of keeping the blood pumping through my veins. Just let me go, is basically what those two documents state. I’ve also appointed someone that I know I can trust to be able to fulfill my wishes in the event that I am not able to communicate them, myself.
My parents have similar wishes communicated in their documents — and have me listed as the secondary designee to be the person to make that decision for them, because they know that I strongly value their wishes and would follow through with what they want done. It is because I value their life that I would be able to carry out their wishes without apprehension.
The documents can spell out your wishes in just the opposite way, as well. Say that you want every single medical procedure and treatment available to keep you alive until your 102 years old. You can designate that, as well – – then at least no one can come forward to say that you would want it any other way.
That’s it. I make no value judgments on the Terri Shaivo case at all. I did not know Terri. I do not know her husband or her family. I sympathize with both sides of this case and feel for all members of the family and Terri, herself. This has to have been a hard road for every single person involved. Decisions like these are not easy ones. Having been there during extensive family conferences with multiple family members trying to come to a decision, together, on what to do . . . usually, in the experiences that I’ve had, families are able to reach a decision together that they all can agree on.
It’s when families cannot come to a mutual decision that cases like these make it into the court systems.
Do yourself, and your family, a favor by drafting the documents that are needed to make sure that the end of your life doesn’t become a cause for the masses. You’re never too young to draft one up for a little peace of mind.
Update: I’m with Matt on this one – – I would love to see Blogs for Terri use their fifteen minutes of fame to help educate the public, who is paying attention, on the topics of end of life legalities and how to safeguard the wishes of the patient…. As none of this would have been necessary and the case wouldn’t have seen the light of day if only Terri had drawn up those documents for herself.
That Terri’s voice has never, and will never, be heard on this – – no one will really ever know what she wanted. That, I feel, is the true tragedy. Don’t let it happen to you or someone that you love.