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Living wills alleviate doubt

By Greg Gelpi

Her fate is in question, but the issue without a doubt has divided the nation from those in the U.S. Congress to those on the street. Many questions, however, could have been answered with a living will.

Although many have given thought to the situation surrounding Terri Schiavo, few have given thought to establishing a living will to avoid finding themselves in similar circumstances.

"I think the family should decide," Nicole Turner, 21, of Atlanta said. "That's her mother and father. They should decide. It's a family problem."

Turner formerly worked in a nursing home and encountered many residents who faced issues in which living wills could have factored in, but admitted to not considering a living will herself.

Both Clayton College & State University students Jason Thomas, 21, of Fayetteville and Darien Tejeda, 23, of Stockbridge have discussed their final wishes with their families, but haven't written living wills to document their decisions either.

"If I was in that state, I wouldn't want to survive," Tejeda said. "In my personal opinion, that's not really living."

It comes down to the question of life, Thomas said.

"In my definition of life, she's not alive," Tejeda said.

While questions swirl around the definition of life, the American Bar Association recommends that people answer such questions before losing the ability to communicate their wishes.

It's "simple" and increasingly become more common for people to establish living wills, said Dennis Belcher, the former chairman of the American Bar Association Section of Real Property, Probate and Trust Law. In fact, most of his clients have living wills.

Living wills enable people to express their wishes if they are in vegetative states and determine who speaks for them, how they are to be treated in such a state and under what circumstances the living wills "trigger," Belcher said.

A sample Georgia living will can even be found online at www.medlawplus.com, he said.

People "typically" consider living wills when they get married, prior to major operations and when they make out a will, Belcher said.

In absence of a living will, litigation such as seen with Schiavo can ensue, he said.

Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, said he was outraged that lawmakers and the president were intervening in the contentious right-to-die battle. He has fought for years with his wife's parents over whether she should be permitted to die or kept alive through the feeding tube.

The 41-year-old woman's feeding tube was removed Friday on a Florida judge's order. Schiavo could linger for one or two weeks if the tube is not reinserted - as has happened twice before, once on a judge's order and once after Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush signed "Terri's Law," which was later declared unconstitutional.

Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly because of a possible potassium imbalance brought on by an eating disorder. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding tube to keep her alive.

Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Her husband says she would not want to be kept alive in that condition, but her parents insist she could recover with treatment.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.