Make sure your wishes are known with a health care directive.
Most of us have heard of Terri Schiavo and her lack of a health care directive. Terri had a heart problem and slipped into a coma in Florida in her 20s. Terri had not expressed with great clarity what she wanted done in such a situation. This caused great anguish for her husband and her parents for years. Eventually, her husband decided that Terri should be allowed to die by removing her feeding tube. Her parents did not agree with the decision and fought it time and again. After years of court and political battles involving the state and federal courts and legislatures, Terri’s husband prevailed and the feeding tube was removed. After 15 years of struggles for Terri and her family, both emotional and political, Terri died in 2005.
There have been other high profile cases like Terri’s: Where someone goes into a coma for years and years, never to recover. Nancy Cruzan also did not have a health care directive. Karen Quinlan. Their names live on long after they are no longer around. But, not every long-term coma ends the same way. Sometimes, though rarely, someone regains consciousness after years and years in a coma.
Sarah Scantlin gives hope to all those waiting for loved ones to recover from such comas. Sarah was 18 years old when she was struck by a drunk driver as she crossed the street one Kansas evening. Sarah’s brain swelled and she slipped into a coma. Her family spent years at her side. Finally, after being told there was no hope for Sarah’s recovery and in order to regain lives of their own, her family reduced the visits to the nursing home caring for Sarah. Then, one day the nursing home called Sarah’s parents. “I have someone who wants to talk with you.” And then Sarah’s mother, Betsy, heard the unmistakable sound of Sarah’s voice, speaking the words she had dreamed of and prayed for, “Hi, Mom.” After more than 20 years, Sarah had recovered from the coma and now provides hope to other, similarly situated, families.
It is difficult to know when to keep hope alive and when to allow death with dignity. Each of us has our own very personal thoughts on the issue, formed from our own experiences, religious beliefs, and upbringing. You can express those thoughts and make sure that your wishes are carried out if necessary. A Living Will (sometimes called a Health Care Directive) can express your wishes in this regard. Note, it is important for every adult to have his or her own Living Will. All too often, these situations involve young adults: Sarah was just 18 when she entered her coma; Terri Schiavo was only in her 20s. So, be sure every adult member of your family has a Living Will to express their wishes.
A qualified estate planning attorney can help you guard against the unthinkable by helping you express your wishes in a legally respected manner. With your directives in place, you can live your life to the fullest, savoring each day – just as Sarah does.
Compliments of the McGee Law Firm, Attorney Brandon McGee
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys