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Schiavo case shows importance of living wills

April 01, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In the two weeks since Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, more individuals and families have been contemplating what one local attorney calls "the edge of death."

"I want my family and my son to know what my last wishes are," said Donna Lewis of Fayetteville, Pa., who called state Rep. Rob Kauffman's office Tuesday to get a pamphlet on Pennsylvania's living will and guardianship law.

On Monday, about 40 people came in or made requests over the phone for the pamphlet on living wills, which are officially known as advance directives for health care.

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"I never anticipated they would move so quickly," said Penny Stoner, a legislative assistant in Kauffman's Chambersburg office.

The pamphlet includes a sample of a living will, but Kauffman, R-Franklin, advised people that it is not an actual form. He said the Office of Legal Counsel for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has asked that no more pamphlets be distributed until they are revised.

Kauffman said the pamphlets are "several years old" and attorneys wanted to review them in light of the Schiavo case.

Legislative assistant Jordan Conner said those who requested forms by telephone will receive a postcard notifying them that they will receive a new pamphlet when it is ready.

"It's probably the only benefit to this poor Florida case is it's raising people's awareness of the need for a living will," said attorney R. Thomas Murphy of the Waynesboro, Pa., law firm of Patterson, Kiersz & Murphy.

"We always recommend, at the very least, that people in Pennsylvania have a will, a power of attorney and a living will," Murphy said. Having all three documents, he said, "helps make sure people can create their own destiny."

"At the edge of death is when a living will comes into effect," he said.

A living will is a document prepared in advance that directs an individual's physician what care should or should not be administered in the the last stages of life, or if they are in a permanently vegetative state, according to the pamphlet.

Stoner said Tuesday the case of Terri Schiavo, who died Thursday, "is making people think about it. It's on the front page all the time." Murphy said inquiries also have increased at his firm since the Schiavo case began dominating the news.

"I saw so much as a nurse. Conflicts in families. Huge bills being run up, and in the end, the result was zero," said Julia Paul of Chambersburg, who also requested a pamphlet.

She does not believe in euthanasia, "but no extraordinary measures should be taken when the death process begins."

"I don't want anyone in my family to do to me what he did to his wife," Lewis said of Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, who asked the courts to remove her feeding tube. "Prisoners get a last meal."

If she were in Terri Schiavo's state, "I want them to do tests," Lewis said Tuesday. "I'm sure if I was like Terri, I'd have some knowledge. She's not brain dead."

While a will in Pennsylvania can be as simple as a handwritten document, Murphy said having a will, power of attorney and living will written by a lawyer is inexpensive. If someone chooses to forgo an attorney, he said a living will should be witnessed and notarized with copies made.

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