Terry Schaivo Case Highlights Benefits Of Living Wills

The highly publicized Terry Schaivo case raises plenty of medical, legal and moral questions.

People are talking about things like quality of life, medical life support and living wills. Some consider the Schiavo case a real opportunity to educate others.

No one likes to think they could end up brain damaged, with relatives left to agonize over life or death decisions on their behalf. But such crisis decision making can be avoided with proper planning.

Questions raised in the Schaivo case have some people pointing to the benefits of "living wills" or advanced medical directives.

"The idea would be that they would learn from this situation that it's best to do these things way in advance of a time of crisis," said Jennifer Garrott of Quality Hospice in Biloxi.

An advanced medical directive seeks to avoid the type of crisis now facing the Schaivo family. The time to make life or death decisions about medical care is before a crisis occurs.

"It also helps the family so the family does not have to, during a time of crisis, try and appoint someone to make those decisions. Because at that point the patient is not able to do that any longer," she explained.

"Those directives will be followed. It's a very easy document. Thirty to forty five minutes to prepare one," said attorney Paul Newton Jr. of Gulfport.

Newton says everyone should have an advanced medical directive. Also called a "living will", the document not only appoints someone to make health care decisions on a person's behalf, it can also include specific instructions about medical treatment.

"That the person does want to have life support systems kept, or that they want those systems removed in a situation where there's no chance of a person regaining a meaningful state of life," Newton said.

Attorneys that normally handle estate matters can draw up advance medical directives.