Near the end of her life, comedienne, Joan Rivers joked often about her age and teased audiences that she could, “go at any time.” And yet, when she died on Thursday, September 4, 2014, the public was stunned. Rivers was eighty one years old.
She had been undergoing vocal cord surgery when “complications occurred.” She lost oxygen, her body went into cardiac arrest, and Rivers slipped into a coma. She remained in a coma and on life support for seven days until her daughter Melissa, made the difficult decision to have her removed.
Lucky for Rivers and her family, she had an Advance Health Care Directive (a legal document which per a person’s request, informs their doctor, family and friends of their individual health care preferences. This includes the types of special treatment they might or might not want at the end of life).
Rivers’ family was spared from any family squabbling, lengthy court battles, and/or unnecessary legal expense.
A similar occurrence took place in the ‘90s. Only the end result was much different.
On Sunday, February 25, 1990, an insurance clerk by the name of Terri Schiavo collapsed in her Florida home. Like Rivers, a lack of oxygen caused Schiavo’s body to go into cardiac arrest. Schiavo slipped into what doctors called an “irreversible persistent vegetative state.”
Unlike Rivers however, Schiavo did not have an Advance Health Care Directive. It was left to Schiavo’s husband as legal guardian to make a difficult decision. Assured by doctors his wife had suffered severe brain damage and certain she would not want to be resuscitated, Michael Schiavo chose to have his wife removed from the feeding tubes which kept her alive. Terri’s parents disagreed with the decision.
What followed was a seven year legal battle which ultimately resulted in the removal of Terri’s feeding tube.
According to a 2015 article posted in the “New York Daily News,” members of Terri’s biological family are still praying that one day her widower husband, Michael Schiavo will apologize.
For more information on the Advance Health Care Directive or other estate planning documents, please contact a qualified estate planning attorney.