The Motley Fool Previous Page

A Silver Lining in the Schiavo Story

Dayana Yochim
March 23, 2005

If the tragic story of Terri Schiavo has any silver lining, it's that her plight may prevent other families from enduring a similarly prolonged moral, legal, and emotional agony.

Since 1990, the Florida woman has been kept alive -- in a persistent vegetative state -- since suffering from severe brain damage caused by heart failure. Her husband, Michael, has said she would not have wanted to be kept alive by artificial means, but her parents dispute that.

Whatever your views on right-to-die legislation and the legal action swirling around Terri's fate, the Schiavo story sets the groundwork for having that difficult discussion with your loved ones -- the discussion about your wishes, should you be incapable of expressing them on your own.

But a conversation is not enough. Verbal contracts are not binding if other parties are involved. and that's why you need a few important documents.

Living will (advance medical directive)
This is a document that says you want the right to die a natural death, free of all costly, extraordinary efforts to keep you alive when your life can be sustained only artificially. Having such a document means that your doctor, the hospital, and, most importantly, your family needn't make such a monumental decision in a time of intense grief. Used in conjunction with a medical power of attorney (or medical directive in some states), a living will spares everyone from a pa