Michael: R.I.P. Terri Schiavo, Patron Saint of Living WillsThe most overused homily in America today is that Terri Schiavo’s death was a tragedy. Terri’s death was no more and no less tragic than the death of any other person. Terri’s dying, on the other hand, is indeed a unique and notable tragedy. Her dying was made a tragedy for all of us by the ham-fisted and opportunistic meddling of our political branches of government in the decisions of Terri and her family in a fashion most Americans would not want for themselves, regardless of their views about Terri’s case.
America hasn’t come to any consensus about where the line between life and death is to be drawn, nor between refusing care and euthanasia, nor even about who has the right to make those decisions for you if you can no longer make them yourself, though the latter has been settled law for a quarter of a century. Terri’s dying didn’t resolve any of these issues to anyone’s satisfaction. Instead it split apart a family, as it has our American family, and exploited the pain that rift caused for the political advantage of hypocrites.
As Americans reflect today and in days to come on the tragedy of Terri’s dying, a lot of us will be having difficult and sincere conversations with our families about what choices we would want made if we were like Terri. I hope those conversations will prompt more people to clearly record their preferences to avoid their personal tragedies from becoming fodder in the Morality-Political Complex’s next cultural war.
Terri’s dying has raised awareness of the importance of clarity in end-of-life medical decisions. Arizonans are lucky in this respect – a new online Health Care Directives Registry was created last year and is available for free, making it easy to ensure your doctors and family will know your wishes, and carry them out. Using the system is simple. Just download the forms from the Attorney General’s website and fill them out yourself, or in consultation with your family and/or an attorney. Examples of filled out forms are part of the enabling statutes: ARS 36-3224, ARS 36-3262, and ARS 36-3286. Submit the completed forms to the Secretary of State’s office where they will be entered into an online database that can be read using a login and password that is issued to you on a wallet card. Your physicians, the courts, and your loved ones can read your medical directives using the card should you become unable to direct your own care.
No one in Arizona need ever suffer the indignity of having their loved one's dying dragged through the media and used for political ends. If Terri’s dying teaches Americans anything, it is the importance of making your values and choices clear, unambiguous, and binding. Terri Schiavo is now our Patron Saint of Living Wills because her family's suffering reminds us that ours don’t have to.