Media attention brings end-of-life decisions to forefront |

Media attention brings end-of-life decisions to forefront

JENNIFER HUFFMANsummit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – Even with Terri Schiavo’s story featured on every newspaper in the country, 19-year-old Breckenridge resident Carissa Comp said it hasn’t prompted her to consider putting her own end-of-life wishes in writing. “I figure my parents would just choose either way and do what’s right for me,” Comp said. “But if I was being kept alive through machines, it would probably be my time to go.”Whether it was her time or not, without her wishes being in writing, Comp would most likely be kept alive with life support in the state of Colorado.With a median age in Summit County of 31, considering end-of-life options probably isn’t prevalent on most people’s minds, according to Noreen Galaba, executive director for Bristlecone Health Services in Frisco, which provides home care, hospice and disability services. However, she pointed out that because of the sometimes extreme environment of the High Country, it probably should be more of a priority.”Based on the type of activities we do here – backcountry skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking – that’s even more of a reason to (have your wishes in writing),” she said.However, the Schiavo case has prompted some locals to consider a written statement of directions for their care to avoid a similar dispute.Schiavo suffered brain damage 15 years ago when her heart stopped for several minutes because of a chemical imbalance seemingly brought on by an eating disorder.

Controversy ensued between her husband and parents when her husband decided to have her feeding tube removed. She had no advanced directive, or a written document to instruct caretakers of her wishes in the event she couldn’t make her own decisions.”The media attention has definitely sparked an interest with our patients,” Galaba said.Schiavo, who died Thursday 13 days after her feeding tube was removed, wasn’t the only person who unwittingly garnered the national spotlight as a result of legal proceedings surrounding medical care decisions and advanced directives. — Karen Quinlan of New Jersey lapsed into a coma in 1975 at the age of 21. Legal proceedings began when her parents tried to gain guardianship to have her respirator removed.– In 1984, 25-year-old Nancy Cruzan was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident in Missouri that left her in a “persistent vegetative state.” To permit the removal of Cruzan’s life support, her family began a three-and-a-half year legal battle, which became the first right-to-die case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.– Hugh Finn was at the center of the most recent case in 1998. He was a television anchorperson who was involved in a car accident in 1995, rupturing his aorta and leaving him in a coma. He had drafted a statement opposing life-prolonging measures for himself, but at the time of his accident he had not yet signed it.

His wife, over the objections of her husband’s parents and brothers, requested that the physician remove the feeding tube and allow her husband to die. His family, in turn, began legal proceedings to stop the removal of the feeding tube. Gov. James Gilmore of Virginia became involved as well on behalf of the family.In all of these cases, the patients were eventually removed from life-support but not without a battle.”The government … and lawyers … don’t have to be involved if you have an advanced directive,” Galaba said. Galaba has only had Bristlecone patients inquire about advanced directives so far, but encourages everyone to do so. One of Bristlecone’s nurses said all of her patients inquired about the statements.Less than 20 percent of Americans actually have an advanced directive, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Bristlecone can provide Summit County residents with resources to fill out an advanced directive. It has copies of the two forms accepted in Colorado, the state’s and Five Wishes. Five Wishes is viable in 33 states. Both include detailed options for life support care.Galaba recommends that second homeowners have advanced directives for both states in which they reside, because each state has a different form.The forms are also available online at and The state form is free, and Five Wishes is $4 online and through Bristlecone.Jennifer Huffman can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 248, or at

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