The Terri Schiavo case has triggered a surge of interest in living wills and other measures that can prevent the kind of bitter battle underway in Florida, experts around the country said yesterday.
Organizations that encourage people to take steps to protect their wishes if they become incapacitated have been flooded by phone calls and hits on their Web sites.
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The Battle for Schiavo|
A look at the long legal battle over whether Floridian Terri Schiavo, 41, may be taken off life support.
Feb. 1990: Schiavo suffers brain damage from heart failure.
Feb. 2000: Circuit Judge George W. Greer rules that Schiavos feeding tube may be removed, as requested by
April 2001: The feeding tube is removed. Two days later, Circuit Judge Frank Quesada orders doctors to
June 2003: The 2nd District Court of Appeal upholds Greers ruling to remove the tube.
Oct.: Gov. Jeb Bush files a federal court brief urging that Schiavo be kept alive.
He is denied.
Doctors remove the feeding tube.
The state legislature passes a bill, called "Terris Law," allowing Bush to intervene. He orders the feeding tube
Sept. 2004: Floridas Supreme Court rules that Terris Law is unconstitutional.
Jan. 2005: The U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the governors appeal.
Feb.: Greer grants an emergency stay blocking the removal of Schiavos feeding tube. He later sets March 18
as the day the tube may be removed.
Mar. 16: House passes legislation to try to block efforts to let Schiavo die.
Mar. 17: Senate passes separate legislation.
Mar. 18: House committee subpoenas Schiavo and others. Florida judge blocks the subpoenas; U.S. Supreme
Court lets that ruling stand. Feeding tube is removed.
Mar. 20: Senate passes legislation giving federal courts jurisdiction in the case.
Mar. 21: House passes the same bill, sending it to President Bush for his signature.
SOURCES: Associated Press, staff reports
"We are getting absolutely slammed here -- the calls are coming in left and right," said Paul Malley, president of Aging With Dignity, a national nonprofit group based in Tallahassee. "We've had more than 20 times as many calls today as we usually get. Everyone is saying how heartbreaking the Terri Schiavo case is and how they want to avoid this happening in their own families."
Advocates said the flood of interest could produce one of the few positive outcomes of the painful episode, in which a venomous family feud over a brain-damaged woman's fate has erupted into a national debate embroiling Congress and the federal courts.
"If there is a silver lining to this, it's that people are taking away one valuable lesson, which is the importance of making your wishes known," said Jon Radulovic of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, a nonprofit group based in Alexandria that was also being flooded by calls. "People seem to be getting that message."
The case appears to have encouraged many families to broach a topic most usually avoid: What would members want to happen to them if they were in a similar situation?
"This is something that's hard for people to talk about because it forces them to face their own mortality," said Timothy E. Quill, director of the Center for Palliative Care and Clinical Ethics at the University of Rochester in New York. "But whenever you have a case like this, it tends to start people talking and thinking."
That was the case with Dorothy Cutler, 84, of Newbury Park, Calif., who called Malley's organization after watching some of the debate over the Schiavo case on television.
"If I'm in a vegetative state I don't want to be kept alive by any artificial means," said the retired secretary. "I'm fine now, but who knows what can happen? You can have a stroke or an accident. You never know from one day to the next."
Arlington lawyer Kelly Thompson said the Schiavo case came up immediately yesterday when she was meeting with a couple for routine estate planning and began listing the documents they would need.
"Before I could even finish the sentence, they said, 'and a medical directive -- don't let me be the next Terri Schiavo,' " Thompson said.
Matt Snow, a Leesburg lawyer, said that in the past week, about two of 10 clients who are getting living wills have mentioned the case as "their motivating factor" in drawing up the document. And Falls Church lawyer John Laster said he expects the peak is yet to come.
"The big brouhaha has only started these last few days," he said. "I feel confident that every new client who comes in this week is going to bring it up."
Only about 20 percent of Americans have taken steps to make sure their wishes would be carried out if they become incapacitated -- a number that end-of-life experts have been trying to raise for years.