More seek info on end-of-life directives

March 28, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - The national exposure of the Terri Schiavo case has resonated with people locally, prompting some to seek information about end-of-life directives, a spokesman for Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said last week.

"There's absolutely no question that it's skyrocketed requests for these advance directives," spokesman Kevin Enright said as the Florida woman's case commanded the nation's attention.

Schiavo entered her ninth day without food or water Sunday. Doctors have said the brain-damaged woman could die within two weeks of a judge's March 18 ruling to have a feeding tube removed.


Schiavo never regained full consciousness after suffering severe brain damage after a collapse in 1990.

Her husband, Michael, argued she would not have wanted to continue living in such a condition. Schiavo left no written instructions about her own wishes, and her parents have made repeated appeals to courts to have a feeding tube reinserted.

End-of-life wishes

Advance directives and living wills specify individuals' wishes about end-of-life care, including treatments such as the use of feeding tubes and respirators.

The paperwork can spare people the pain and uncertainty of making decisions on behalf of loved ones who are experiencing a medical crisis or suffering from an incapacitating condition, Smithsburg nurse and attorney Bonnie Winders said Friday.

"It's crucial if you're adamant about not living in a debilitated state. It's crucial that you have an advance directive, so your wishes are known and made clear," Winders said.

According to Enright, the Maryland Attorney General's Office provides paperwork that people can use to create their own living wills or advance directives without the help of an attorney.

An advance directive can be used to name a health-care agent, a person who makes decisions on behalf of someone else. It also can specify treatments in three situations, including the existence of a terminal condition, persistent vegetative state or end-stage condition and an advanced, progressive and incurable condition such as Alzheimer's disease.

A living will can be used when a patient is in a persistent vegetative state or suffering from a terminal condition, in which death is imminent despite the application of life-sustaining procedures.

The documents must be signed by two witnesses but do not need to be notarized.

According to Enright, the Attorney General's Office usually receives about five to 10 requests a week for the documents. In two days last week, he said, more than 300 forms were mailed to people interesting in filling out the documents.

Pennsylvania residents may obtain the booklet, "Understanding Advance Directives: Living Wills and Power of Attorney in Pennsylvania" by calling 717-783-1549 or writing to Pennsylvania Department of Aging, Press Office, 555 Walnut St., Fifth Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101-1919

Maryland residents may obtain the free optional forms by calling the Attorney General's office at 410-576-7000 or on its Web site at:

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