Skip to content
Font Size
A
A
A

Florida Case Spotlights the Need for Advance Directives

Living Wills
By
WebMD Feature

April 24, 2001 (Washington) -- The intense legal battle over the care of a 37-year-old Florida woman in a coma for 11 years may have ended on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case.

Michael Schiavo has been arguing that the feeding tube sustaining his wife, Terri, should be removed and that she should be allowed to die. However, her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, say that Terri does respond to them and that she might recover.

Her recovery could be decades off -- if it comes at all. But the Schindlers say that's preferable to removing her life support system and allowing Terri to starve to death. She's been in a coma ever since she had a heart attack in 1990.

The quandary is that Michael claims Terri didn't want to be kept alive by heroic means, but she didn't prepare a document known as a living will or an advance directive that would have advised medical and legal officials how to proceed in a situation like this one. Complicating the case is Terri's medical trust fund of $700,000, which Michael stands to inherit.

Michael Williams, MD, a neurologist and co-chairman of the ethics committee at Johns Hopkins Hospital, works hard to avoid this kind of tragic conflict.

"I always expect that it's going to take more than one conversation, and the main reason for that is, because when I go in, and I have to break bad news to the family, there's naturally going to be an emotional response to that. ... I don't consider that an impediment to my job. I actually see that as a necessary part," says Williams. So far, he's never had a case get to court, although some have been brought to the hospital's ethics committee.

Actually, a federal statute enacted in 1990 requires hospitals to provide patients with general information about how they want to handle end-of-life care issues. In addition, every state has set standards for how these documents should be prepared.

"I view the advance directive not as a document written in stone. I view it as an invitation to a conversation. It's a place to start. ... I think talking about [a patient's wishes] is probably the most important thing. In particular, talking about it with physicians," says Williams, who works in the neurological intensive care unit. He says these life and death discussions come up virtually everyday.

1 | 2 | 3

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

sore foot
3 warning signs.
acupuncture needle on shoulder
10 tips to look and feel good.
Epinephrine Injection using Auto-Injector Syringe
Life-threatening triggers.
disciplining a boy
Types, symptoms, causes.
psoriasis
What it looks like.
checking blood sugar
Symptoms and treatment.
man behind computer screen
10 possible causes.
Woman with itchy watery eyes
Common triggers.
man screaming
Making sense of symptoms.
human liver
What puts you at risk?
caregiver with parent
10 tips for daily life.
two male hands
Understanding RA.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.