Apr 122005
Authors: Kate Dzintars

Words to Know:

Living will – document that allows someone to make life-sustainment decisions before they become unconscious or comatose

Will – divides and distributes a person's property after they die

Probate attorney – lawyer who executed wills

Artificial nourishment – method of "feeding" a comatose patient through a tube

Life support – method of electronically keeping the heart beating

Brain dead – the irreversible loss of all functions of the brain. It can be determined in several ways: First – no electrical activity in the brain; this is determined by an EEG. Second – no blood flow to the brain; this is determined by blood flow studies. Third – absence of function of all parts of the brain – as determined by clinical assessment (no movement, no response to stimulation, no breathing, no brain reflexes.)

EEG – electroencephalogram – measures electrical activity of the brain through electrodes attached to the scalp


Classes. Work. Friends. Next month's rent. When a student is just trying to live life, planning for death may get pushed to the bottom of the priority list, but in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case, some may question whether it should be expedited to the top.

"It is important for anyone to be considering it," said Kevin Daley, an attorney at Student Legal Services. "I don't care how old you are; you never know when you are going to be involved in an accident. Miss Schiavo was young when her tragedy befell her, so a great deal of trouble could have been avoided if she had a living will."

Terri Schiavo died March 31, 2005, after her feeding tube was removed by order of her husband and court-appointed legal guardian, Michael Schiavo. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, did not want the feeding tube removed.

Terri Schiavo had been in a coma since Feb. 25, 1990, when she collapsed from a heart attack related to a potassium deficiency. In 1991, her physician declared that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state.

Had Terri Schiavo signed a living will and shared her wishes of life-sustainment with her family, they would not have been forced to dispute her fate. The controversy has influenced some CSU students to make plans for themselves.

"My dad actually brought it up one day," said Michelle Mora, a senior chemistry major. "It seemed like a good idea after the mess that happened with Terri Schiavo, which was really unfortunate. I would never want the people I love to be at odds with each other over something like that."

One way to share final wishes is to sign a living will. Within the recommended living will document of Colorado, one can specify types of life-sustainment procedures that one wishes to have. The client chooses the number of days they wish to be sustained and whether they want to be sustained on artificial nourishment alone.

With a CSU identification card, students can obtain free counsel concerning a living will by making an appointment at Student Legal Services, room182 Lory Student Center.

"It's very easy to execute one," Daley said.

A couple of students have come in because of the Terri Schiavo case, Daley said, but there has not been a flood of individuals.

"Students who come to legal student services usually are nontraditional students who come in for wills and are advised that we do living wills, too," Daley said.

Living a risky lifestyle, including rodeo activities and Christopher Reeve's accident prompted Benjamin Carroll, a junior political science and agricultural economics major, to plan for the end of his life.

"My will should say two things," Carroll said. "If I was in a situation where I was in a coma, as long as I am not in pain, keep me living. The other thing it would say would be where my stuff went."

Wills plan for division of property, while living wills declare wishes for cessation of life.

"In the event that two physicians certify in writing that you are terminal, that's when a living will becomes important," Daley said.

Student Legal Services also provides durable power of attorney documents. While a living will allows a person to make medical decisions for themselves before something happens to them, a durable power of attorney document gives decision-making power to someone else.

Daley said even if someone decides they do not want one, everyone should at least consider signing a living will or giving someone durable power of attorney.

"It's a very personal decision as to whether or not one should have a living will," Daley said. "I have one. My partner has one. But I think it would be presumptuous to say everyone should have one."

While living wills and durable power of attorney are useful for unforeseen accidents, for patients who know they are terminally ill, a hospice can provide care and services for themselves and their families.

Hospice of Larimer County counsels patients on their final personal, emotional and spiritual needs as well as medical wishes with their families through the "Five Wishes" booklet.

"The 'Five Wishes' is the newest way to express your wishes other than the living will," said Linda Brown, admissions team manager at the Hospice of Larimer County. "It takes the place of that. It's a booklet that provides you with ways as to how you want to put your affairs in order."

Brown also said the "Five Wishes" can be notarized to serve as a legal document, but mainly facilitates discussion between patients and their families about the patient's wishes.

The State of Colorado's recommended living will document does not include provisions for organ donation. One organ donor can save up to eight lives and one tissue donor can enhance up to 50 lives, according to the brochure of commonly asked questions from the Donor Alliance in Colorado.

Donor Alliance is a nonprofit organization serving Colorado and Wyoming that recovers and distributes organs and tissue.

Those wishing to donate their organs can sign up for the Colorado Organ and Tissue Donor Registry at http://www.ColoradoDonorRegistry.com.

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