Hopefully, the sad case in Florida will prompt many Americans to spell out their wishes for their own medical care.
Amid the sadness and controversy of the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, there is at least one silver lining: The high-profile argument over whether to prolong the brain-damaged woman's life has prompted many useful discussions across the nation about issues related to death and dying.
The plight of Schiavo and the ongoing argument between her parents and her husband could have been avoided if Schiavo had clearly stated her desires about her treatment while she was still capable of doing so. A living will that spelled out what treatment she did and didn't want to prolong her life would have done the job. So would a durable power of attorney designating one individual to make medical decisions for her if she became unable to make those decisions herself.
Either document would have allowed the life-and-death decision to be made, as it should have been, in a private and respectful manner rather than becoming a national political spectacle that has little to do with Schiavo's own desires or best interests.
Many families find it difficult to discuss and formalize their wishes concerning their own illness and death. The Schiavo case illustrates how taking that step can prevent untold heartache for a family and ensure that the wishes of the patient are the key to whatever care decisions someone must make on his or her behalf.