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Living Wills: The Terry Schiavo Case

Posted May 06, 2015 in Adel, Advice Column, Norwalk, Waukee

The name Terry Schiavo may not sound familiar to you, but is well known to professionals in the estate planning world. Terry Schiavo was a Florida resident who suffered a major heart attack in 1990 resulting in massive brain damage. Doctors declared Terry to be in a “vegetative state” shortly thereafter.   Terry’s doctors fed her through a feeding tube and attempted various therapies to improve her condition, but the damage was irreversible and Terry’s condition failed to improve. In early 1998 Terry’s husband, Michael, petitioned the courts of Florida to have his wife’s feeding tube removed, which would allow her to die. However, Terry’s parents did not want to give up hope of their daughter regaining consciousness again and contested Michael’s petition. This legal battle went on…and on…and on…for about seven years. Finally, on March 18, 2005 Terry’s feeding tube was removed. Theresa Marie Schiavo died 13 days later on March 31, 2005. Ultimately, Terry spent 15 of her 41 years in a vegetative state unable to communicate her wishes. Because Terry’s family was unable to agree on her medical care, the Florida judicial system was forced to be the final decision maker.

The question that many people have after hearing about the Terry Schiavo case is “How can I prevent this situation from happening to myself and my family?” Fortunately, there is a simple answer. In Iowa, an adult of sound mind can execute a document calling a “Living Will”. The standard language for a Living Will is as follows:

“If I should have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result either in death within a relatively short period of time or a state of permanent unconsciousness from which, to a reasonable degree of

medical certainty, there can be no recovery, it is my desire that my life not be prolonged by the administration of life-sustaining procedures. If I am unable to participate in my health-care decisions, I direct my attending physician to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining procedures that merely prolong the dying process and are not necessary to my comfort or freedom from pain.”

If you agree with the quoted statement above, a Living Will should be incorporated into your estate plan. Your family will appreciate knowing your thoughts if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Information provided by Adam Doll, attorney at law, Hopkins & Huebner P.C., 2700 Grand Ave., Suite 111, Des Moines.

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