WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of Terri Schiavo's controversial death in March,lawmakers and hospital workers are urging Americans to talk about their final wishes with family members.
In a culture that is reluctant to confront death,experts said Friday,Schiavo's legacy may be that she got people to do so.
“The Schiavo case brought end-of-life and palliative issues into the living room,” said Betsy Clark,executive director of the National Association of Social Workers,who moderated a discussion sponsored by the association about health care for people who are dying.
For most,dying is private,and many people disapproved of the way the federal government acted in the Schiavo case,said Eleanor Clift,a contributing editor for Newsweek magazine. Her husband died of cancer one day before Schiavo's death.
“I was living out a parallel situation in my own life,” said Clift,whose husband was in home hospice care. She described the Schiavo case as a media “feeding frenzy.”
Schiavo,41,died March 31,15 years after collapsing at her Florida home. Her husband and parents fought over whether she had any chance of recovering and whether her feeding tube should be removed. After protracted court battles and congressional intervention,the tube was removed and Schiavo died two weeks later. An autopsy confirmed she had extensive brain damages and could not have recovered.
Some felt that hospice care was misrepresented in the media coverage of the Schiavo case,but it was hard for reporters to get all sides of the issue when some groups weren't speaking up,said Ceci Connolly,a reporter for The Washington Post. She wrote an article about the lasting effects of the Schiavo case on employees at Hospice House Woodside,the facility where Schiavo died.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization would have been a great source for reporters at the time of the Schiavo case,as a lot of misinformation about hospice care came out,Connolly said.
The organization didn't want to comment about Schiavo,as its workers are supportive of families' decisions and will work to carry out their wishes,said Kathy Brandt,the organization's vice president of professional leadership and consumer and caregiver services.
More than 950,000 dying Americans received hospice care in 2003,a 22 percent increase from 2001,according to a November press release from the organization.
Hospital workers and legislators are advocating advance directives,which include living wills,and determine who will make medical choices for patients who can't decide for themselves.
Before the Schiavo case,about 15 to 20 percent of Americans had advance directives,but the number has increased,said Jon Cooper,legislative counsel for Sen. Bill Nelson,D-Fla.
Nelson in February introduced the Advance Directives Improvement and Education Act,which would enable Medicare beneficiaries to discuss end-of-life-care with a physician free of charge. Many people didn't know where to get such information,Cooper said.
The social workers association supports the bill,as do the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association.