Put this at the top of your 'to do' list by David Lias Let�s face it.
Most of the time, we�re preoccupied with the various challenges life brings us day-to-day.
We�re so busy that seldom do many of us stop to think that, in an instant, our lives could be permanently altered.
There are all sorts of things that could happen. Simple things, really.
A fall down a flight of stairs. A heart attack while shoveling snow. Hitting a deer while going 75 m.p.h. down the interstate. A debilitating stroke.
Despite the popular saying, if something like this happens to you and it doesn�t kill you, there�s no guarantee it will make you stronger.
Oh sure, you�re healthy as an ox right now.
But there�s always this chance, you see, of winding up in a hospital bed, unable to die, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, and also too ill or maimed to let your loved ones and your health care providers know what course of future medical treatment you would prefer.
If there�s a lesson to be learned from the Terri Schiavo brouhaha going on in Florida right now, it�s this:
To live a rich, full life, be sure to give some thought to how you�d like it to end.
It�s human nature, I suppose, to resist those thoughts. Want to find yourself standing alone in a corner at a cocktail party? Launch into a discussion about death and dying.
In a way, it�s strange that we share this attitude. Stop and think of all the things of which we have no control. Gas prices. Acts of nature. Randy Moss.
Now stop and think of the one thing we know � with 100 percent certainty � that is waiting for us.
Okay, two things. Taxes. And death.
Terri Schiavo may have briefly thought about what would eventually be a certainty in her life.
She may have even casually talked about the topic with her husband, Michael, as he claims.
But she needed to take one more step.
She needed to formally express her end-of-life wishes. In writing.
Terri Schiavo was only 26 when her heart stopped beating because of a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder, leaving her severely brain damaged for the past 15 years.
Her husband and two family members have testified that Terri told them she would never want to be kept alive artificially after she saw a TV program involving an end-of-life story and witnessed a relative endure a difficult death.
Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, however, dispute their daughter had such wishes, and the result has been a bitter court battle that has waged for more than seven years.
Doctors have said Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, but her parents insist she can be rehabilitated with treatment.
This long, expensive conflict could have been avoided had Terri Schiavo exercised a living will � a document that would have communicated her wishes on medical treatments after she became incapacitated.
Think this could never happen to you?
Michael J. Myers, an elderlaw professor at The University of South Dakota School of Law, notes that there are currently 10,000 people in the United States who, like Terri Schiavo, are in vegetative states.
True, that�s not a very high percentage of the United States� total population.
But think of all of the attention being directed right now at just one individual.
By rights, the protesters pictured with large signs and tape on their mouths ought to be camped out in front of every hospital and hospice in America. They should be kneeling, holding candles and demanding extraordinary measures be taken in every tragic, hopeless case.
That�s what I think. But to judge from my conversations, what people think about this case � particularly those who, like me, haven�t studied all of the judicial rulings, seem profoundly influenced by how they feel.
I feel, for instance, that I would far rather die than live like Terri Schiavo. I let my wife know of those feelings years ago by completing a power of attorney. I�ve reminded her of those sentiments at least three times in the past week as the news from Florida and Washington, DC continues to pour in.
I feel that it�s easier to make such a decision about your own life than it is to make it for another�s, but that letting go � and suffering grief compounded by pangs of uncertainty � is one of the most heroic acts of love the heart can perform.
Every day, sons and daughters, husbands and wives make the profoundly selfless decision to release their illusions, to forsake forever the comfort of sitting beside a warm but essentially empty vessel and to say goodbye.
After all, life is more than just a mere biological existence; despite statements by our president and our junior senator this week that we should always err on the side of life, there is no greater way to show life due respect than to let it end with dignity, not desperation.
What about you? Have you filled out a living will or executed a durable power of attorney should you, because of a sudden deteriorating health condition, not be able to communicate your final wishes?
If the answer to that question is no, take the time as soon as possible to get such paperwork on file.
Write �execute living will and/or durable power of attorney� on the top of your to do list.
If you aren�t sure how to proceed, contact your attorney. Sioux Valley Vermillion Hospital also has resources to help.
Everything involved the Terri Schiavo case � from the day her heart stopped beating, to the court fights, to the bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this week, to the continued protests outside her hospice � have been tragic.
And they may all be, ironically, exactly the opposite of what she wants.
She may want to be allowed to peacefully, comfortably slip away.
Somehow, I can�t help but feel that Terri Schiavo�s real supporters are those who wish for her a swift and quiet end.
Contact Plain Talk Editor David Lias at firstname.lastname@example.org.