In 1990, when she was only 26-years-old, Terry Schiavo suffered a heart attack and then fell into a persistent vegetative state. A highly public battle about her care took place between her husband, Michael Schiavo, and her parents, Robert and Mary Schiavo. Read more about the case here.
At the time, the case garnered national and international attention. Commentary came from actors, the Vatican, members of Congress, then-president George W. Bush and his brother, then Florida Governor, Jeb Bush.
The latter had previously signed a Florida law that allowed himself and Schiavo’s parents to prevent the feeding tube from being removed. While this law was later deemed unconstitutional, greater scrutiny was focused on the issue of advance health care planning.
This unfortunate case could have been avoided if Mrs. Schiavo had signed an Advance Health Care Directive earlier in her life, expressing her wishes.
Former Governor and now Presidential candidate, Jeb Bush has again placed himself at the forefront of the issue. At a recent forum, he made statements regarding the Schiavo case and the future relationship between Medicare and advance directives.
Candidate Bush has suggested all Medicare beneficiaries should be required to sign an Advance Health Care Directive as a condition of acceptance into that program. While critics claim that such a stipulation would open Pandora’s Box in terms of the government’s role in end of life decisions, nothing should detract from the importance of such documents.
Whether required for enrollment in government programs or not, it is always a good idea to plan for the future. Schiavo did not see herself suffering from cardiac arrest resulting in the brain damage that required permanent long-term care. The resulting lack of clear direction led to a 15 year legal, and public, opinion battle between her husband and parents.
The same can be said for all of us. No one envisions themselves becoming incapable of making their own decisions, but life happens, and failing to plan means your choices may be beyond your control.
In addition, Terri’s young age is another reason that we advise anyone above the age of 18 to consider basic estate planning documents.
 An Advance Health Care Directive can be oral, but usually is a written legal document. It expresses a person’s wishes about what should be done if they later become incapable of making their own healthcare decisions. This can range from having healthcare workers undertake all available means to save your life, to just providing “comfort care.” The directive can also allow the appointment of a health care agent to make care decisions if the grantor can no longer do so.
Mr. Abraham is an experienced attorney and founding member of the Law Firm of Abraham & Bauer. The Towson, MD office of the firm concentrates its practice in Estate Planning, Elder Law, Probate, Medical Assistance (Medicaid), Guardianship, Asset Preservation and Fiduciary Representation.
He is an active member in a number of professional organizations that focus on law, the senior community, and estate planning. He works with clients in Central Maryland, especially in Towson, Hunt Valley, Lutherville/Timonium, Parkville, White Marsh, Bel Air & Northern Baltimore City.
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