Terri Schiavo was the subject of one of the nation’s most famous and divisive end-of-life cases.
Bobby Schindler is her brother, and he is the president of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network.
Schindler recently joined Rebecca A. Hobbs of ElderLawAnsers to tell his sister’s story.
Terri Schiavo was only 26 when she collapsed at her Florida home. Paramedics resuscitated Terri, but by then she had sustained brain damage. She was on a ventilator for the first few weeks, but doctors removed the vent and she began breathing on her own. In June 1990, the court-appointed Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, as her guardian. In May 1998, Michael, through his attorney, filed a Petition to Withdraw Life Support.
In the interview, Bobby speaks from his heart about his sister’s final days.
Bobby says that Terri’s condition was very different from how the media portrayed it. He says that Terri was not in an end-stage medical condition and that she was not on any life support. The only help that Terri required was hydration and nutrition.
On February 25, 2005, a judge ordered that Terri’s feeding tube could be removed. The judge further ordered that Terri not receive hydration or nutrition by mouth. Terri Schiavo’s gastric feeding tube was removed on March 18, 2015, and she died on March 31, 2005.
What lessons can we learn from Terri’s story?
First, make sure you have your own plan in place. That plan should include a Michigan Patient Advocate Designation (under Michigan law this is the technical term for it — you may also have heard these called advance directives, medical directives, health care powers of attorney or living wills).
A Patient Advocate Designation puts someone in place to carry out your medical wishes if you are unable to make your own medical decisions. If you don’t have one, you should get a Patient Advocate Designation as part of your estate plan*.
Also, get a HIPAA Authorization to allow your loved ones to communicate with hospitals, doctors and nurses. Not your normal HIPAA Authorization — but one that will allow access to your medical information wherever you are.
Terri Schiavo’s battle was devastating for the family. It took over 15 years from her collapse to her removal from life support. Is there a right or wrong in this situation? Who knows? But the family could have avoided much of the battle if Terri Schiavo put her advance directives in place before her collapse.
What steps can you take today to make sure your plan is in place and your loved ones follow your wishes?
(1) talk with an experienced Michigan estate planning attorney to put your comprehensive estate plan in place; and
(2) tell your loved ones your wishes so they are “carrying out your wishes” instead of “guessing” or “making a decision for you“.
To hear Bobby Schindler tell Terri’s story, click here to listen to the full podcast.
For “another side of the story”, here is an NBC News report on conclusions of the medical examiner after her autopsy: NBC News Report on Terri Schiavo
* Your estate plan should also include a Will or Trust, Financial Power of Attorney, Funeral Representative Designation and Lady Bird Deed. What you need is specific to your circumstances, but everyone needs to have at least a basic plan in place.
Glenn Matecun is an experienced Michigan estate planning attorney, and one of only 19 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in Michigan. He has helped thousands of families with their estate plans and elder law issues over the last 30 years.