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Friday, March 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Schiavo legacy: living wills

PHILADELPHIA — One year after the death of Terri Schiavo, her divided family said it's moving on.

Time for things more productive than rancor, such as foundations and political action.

But did anyone hear a snarl?

"If you're looking for me to cut a bereaved father some slack, you're going to be on a long and futile search," says husband Michael Schiavo in "Terri: The Truth."

"Evil," says Terri's mother, Mary Schindler, writing about the actions of Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, in "A Life That Matters: The Legacy of Teri Schiavo — A Lesson For Us All."

The release this week of books from each side and the ensuing sniping on national television suggest the vitriol has not quelled.

Meanwhile, the legacy of what was one of the most public and contested deaths in the nation continues to develop.

Many advocates say the case has led to a sharp increase in the number of Americans signing living wills and end-of-life directives, or at least discussing the what-ifs with loved ones. End-of-life measures have been introduced in many states but most have not passed.

Advance directives

Visits to the Internet site for the U.S. Living Will Registry — where advance directives can be stored for quick access by doctors and family members — increased from 500 a day to 50,000 a day when the Schiavo case was in the headlines last year.

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It has leveled off to about 2,500 a day, but the number of registered documents is up to 40,000 from 10,000 a year ago.

"It basically brought the whole idea of advance directives and living wills into the national consciousness," said Joseph Barmakian, president of Living Will Registry. "Everyone said, 'We don't want that to happen to us. ... ' That's the one good thing that came out of a very tragic case."

Terri Schiavo, 41, died a year ago today in a Florida hospice, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed — for the third time — by court order. Her parents fought Michael Schiavo in court for seven years to keep him from cutting off artificial feeding so she could die.

She had no written advance directive when she collapsed in 1990.

Michael Schiavo contended his wife once told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially with no hope of recovery. Court after court affirmed his right to let his wife die.

The Schindlers doubted their daughter expressed such a wish, and they believed she might get better with therapy. They enlisted the help of Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush, the Florida Legislature and Congress. The Vatican weighed in.

Michael Schiavo, in an interview this week, said one of his goals as he promotes his book is to become the "face of living wills."

"People need to talk," he said. "They need to talk about dying. Everybody is going to die, and it's OK to talk about it. We need to put it in writing. Even if you choose that you would want to remain alive in Terri's condition, you need to write that down."

For the Schindlers' part, they recommend in their book that people grant a health-care power-of-attorney to a reliable person.

Aging With Dignity, a nonprofit group, publishes a document called "Five Wishes" that people can use to legally declare whether they want to be kept alive artificially and what kind of treatment they want and don't want.

Demand for the document spiked as the Schiavo case was raging, said the organization's president, Paul Malley. Some 2 million were distributed in 2005, about double the previous year. Requests still are running double what they were in 2004.

Remarried

In the year since Terri Schiavo's death, Michael Schiavo married Jodi Centonze, his longtime fiancée and mother of their two toddlers.

She had remained in the background, but this week she joined Michael Schiavo in several television interviews. She said that, while the situation had been difficult, she would have thought "so much less" of him if he had walked away from Terri Schiavo.

Michael Schiavo has started a political-action committee — TerriPAC — to counter government interference in family matters. He said he plans to announce his endorsement for Florida governor within weeks.

Terri Schiavo's siblings — Bobby Schindler, no longer a high-school math and science teacher, and Suzanne Vitadamo, no longer a stockbroker — now work for the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, speaking at right-to-life events against what they call the "euthanasia cult."

The family has pledged to donate all profits from its book to the foundation. Thursday, family members gathered in Washington to announce a new mission for the foundation. They plan to establish a national network of professionals and others who can come to the aid of "potential victims ... at the mercy of the death cult that has permeated our nation's medical profession," according to a prepared statement.

Arguments

In their books and television interviews, the arguments of the Schindler family and Michael Schiavo remain largely the same.

Each side says the other didn't care about Terri Schiavo.

Michael Schiavo blames her collapse on an eating disorder caused by her father's cruel comments about her weight: 250 pounds in high school, about 115 when she collapsed.

The Schindlers say they think her husband did something violent to cause her collapse. An autopsy found no evidence.

On NBC, Michael Schiavo said the families' relationship dissolved when Terri's father, Bob Schindler, demanded money from a malpractice settlement for himself.

Michael Schiavo said Terri and he loved each other and were trying to have a child.

On ABC, Bobby Schindler contended the settlement money "was used to kill Terri."

The Schindlers said their daughter was considering divorce at the time of her collapse, and Mary Schindler said, "she confided in me about, they didn't have — they weren't intimate."

Clearly, the wounds of the past continue to haunt the family.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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