Schiavo case prompts discussion of end of life care

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(Host) The legal fight over who controls the fate of Terri Schaivo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose case has touched Congress and the courts, may have a beneficial side-effect. VPR’s Nina Keck reports it’s making many Americans think about their own end-of-life wishes.

(Keck) Talking about death and dying isn’t easy. But Mary McDougall, a social worker with the Rutland Area Visiting Nurses Hospice Program, says everyone should talk about the kind of care they want should they become incapacitated or seriously ill. And she says there are lots of places to get help. Your lawyer, doctor, local visiting nurses or nearest hospital should be able to guide you in setting up what’s known as advanced directives.

(McDouggal) “I think it helps the doctors, I think it will help the families to make those types of decisions. And I have had people say to me that this is really not what I want for my mom, but this is what she wants. She’s tired of fighting, she’s tired of feeling sick, so I’m going to respect her wishes. So they’re helpful.”

(Keck) McDougall says it’s also important that people have these conversations at a time when they’re capable, rather than when it’s too late or there’s panic or crisis that’s setting in. John Campbell, executive director of the Vermont Ethics Network says their Web site,, has a number of documents that can help people get started.

(Campbell) “One of the biggest helps is to start not with the forms, but with the worksheets. That starts with the nonmedical questions about what people find important in their lives. And as they age or as they change their life situation, different things may become more important.”

(Keck) Campbell says understanding what’s important can help when you need to make difficult choices later on.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck.

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