The life, and death, of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who has spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state, is playing out across the nation's stage. Almost everyone has discussed the end of her life, except her unfortunately.
Most debaters of her life and the decision to stop artificial hydration and nutrition may not have taken the simple steps needed to prevent themselves from becoming the subjects of similar tragedies. Simple forms, filled out quickly and easily changed later, are all that are needed to make one's end of life health care decisions explicit. The forms for a living will and durable power of attorney that comply with Alaska law can be downloaded from the Internet.
The importance of these documents goes well beyond what will happen to your body should your brain no longer guide it. These documents could prevent the disintegration of a family, such as that which has divided Schiavo's husband and parents, and apparently the nation.
Schiavo did not write a living will before she lapsed into a persistent vegetative state 15 years ago. She never appointed a durable power of attorney to make medical decisions on her behalf. She never expressed her wishes to a broad circle of family and friends. President Bush, Terri Schiavo's husband, her parents, the Florida Legislature, Congress, and the courts have all decided about her life, but if Terri herself could wake up long enough to see herself and choose between what she has experienced for 15 years and death, what would she want?
Most people do not have living wills or a power of attorney for health care decisions. A living will allows you to express your wishes in response to situations if you cannot express them. A durable power of attorney for health care lets you designate someone to make those decisions on your behalf if you can't. That person should be someone who understands your values, feelings, and wishes.
There is a great deal at stake than just you. As we are seeing daily with Terry Schiavo, the in- laws are battling about what Terry would want. Even were the legal questions surrounding her case removed, it would still be a fight between in-laws.
To learn more about this issue in general, you can go to www.agingwithdignity.org. Forms to create an Alaska living will and durable power of attorney are available online at www.akrepublicans.org/weyhrauch/directiveform/weyh2004102001Iphp.
Please do this today.
Bruce B. Weyhrauch represents the 4th District in the Alaska House of Representatives and is an attorney in private practice.
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