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Can They Do That?

There is a good chance that even those of us who are not “legally inclined” remember a case commonly known as the “Terri Schiavo Case.” The over-played, recurring images and brief video clips of the forty-one year old St. Petersburg woman sitting up-right in her hospital chair while receiving life support have probably remained with many of us.

The case of Terri Schiavo dealt with the issue of medical decision-making rights when a person becomes incapacitated, or in Schiavo’s case, is left in a persistent vegetative state. While it is human nature to think that these unfortunate events could never happen to us or to our loved ones, the harsh truth is that as long as we are alive, there always exists the risk that some tragic life event could result leaving us in a position of incapacity or reliance on life support.

If you recall, Terri’s medical condition resulted from a simple cardiac arrest. While she was eventually resuscitated, she suffered severe brain damage due to a lack of oxygen to her brain and was left comatose. Events and medical conditions like this are far more common than we would like to believe.

So what happens to you when the unimaginable happens? The answer to that question largely depends on how well you plan for your future. The case of Terri Schiavo (aside from the various legal challenges, federal appeals and government intervention which effectively prolonged the decision for several years), became largely publicized because of the conflicting demands and wishes of Terri’s family members. Her husband insisted that Terri would have never wanted prolonged artificial life support without the possibility of recovery. Her parents, however, vehemently argued for the continuation of life support with an eye towards a miraculous recovery.

The case sparked nation-wide debate that is still a point of contention among proponents of the “right to die movement” and conversely, proponents of the “right to life / pro-life movement.” Terri’s life support was eventually discontinued. Though the decision to do so comforted about half of us, the remaining other half of us were left with a really bitter sweet feeling.

Now, back to our question. How do we plan accordingly to have our wishes followed in the event of the unimaginable? The Florida Legislature has enacted Chapter, 765 of the Florida Statutes titled “Health Care Advance Directives” which allows us to make these difficult forward-looking decisions with regard to our health. While the legislature has accounted for those who do not execute a health care surrogate / advance directive1, do we really want to leave these valuable decisions in the hands of the state? -My guess, probably not.

Call us to discuss your options with regard to your health care decisions at (813) 528-4044.

1 § 765.401, Florida Statutes. (Referring to “The Proxy” for those with an “Absence of an Advanced Directive”).

[1] Fla. Stat. §732.4015(1). [2] Fla. Stat. §732.702.