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Keeping politicians out of your final days

The agonizing case of Terri Schiavo and a very well organized e-mail campaign has shown us all just how easy it is to stampede the governor and Legislature into a classic knee jerk.

Although many lawmakers were rushing to please the right to life side of the Republican Party, they may find they have angered the rest of the world.

Senate President Jim King was obviously troubled by the measure, but voted for it anyway. Minutes later he said he remained troubled by the possibility that the Legislature was doing something Terri Schiavo would not have wanted.

It reminded many of us of the fight King waged years ago to gain the passage of a "death with dignity law." He pushed for it after watching his own parents die in nursing homes.

Floridians have a right to refuse medical treatment _ and feeding tubes. Our courts and even the Legislature, thanks to King, have affirmed this right. It is grounded in our constitutional right to privacy.

Many of us have taken the time to write a living will and appoint a surrogate who can make these decisions for us when we cannot. If you haven't taken the time to do this, stop right now and go find the forms. Some are very specific. You can easily pick the situations when you would be willing to survive on a feeding tube.

Some of us acted after dealing with aging parents who were refusing to eat. Nursing homes have a vested interest in keeping these patients alive and will often try to install a feeding tube.

And you should know that living wills alone won't always block a feeding tube. It takes vigilance on the part of friends and family members who know what their loved one wants.

In my mother's case, we had to hire a lawyer to convince the nursing home that she, and we, were serious about refusing the feeding tube. Mother had been bedridden and unable to recognize any of us for years. When I objected to extraordinary measures to prolong her life, the doctor suggested some quality of life remained.

When I asked him to identify that quality, he noted that she seemed to like it when the sun came in her window.

That was not enough for a once vibrant, well-educated woman who could enjoy none of the things she once loved to do. Fortunately she had a signed living will, but I also had dozens of friends and relatives who had heard Mother say she didn't want to end her life that way.

I would hate to think what she might have been forced to do if we had failed to keep up with a little piece of paper.

I remember driving her to see an old friend, a retired college professor, who sat dazed in a nursing home day after day because of a stroke. The old friend never acknowledged our visits, never knew anything, but remained alive for years.

Each time we left the nursing home, Mother would turn to me and make me promise never to let her spend her final days like that.

It is, however, hard in a world that wants to provide more and more medical care to know exactly when that moment arrives.

My sister has jokingly suggested the only way to be certain would be to hire a hit man with detailed instructions on when to take you out.

Watching someone die a crumb at a time over a decade will do that to you.

It cannot be comforting to Floridians to know that our governor and Legislature can be so easily pushed into suspending a right many of us desperately want to keep.

Unfortunately I've been around the Legislature long enough to know that they frequently do stupid things. It's a weird phenomenon: decent, well-educated men and women go berserk when gathered together in groups called the House and Senate.

And any well-publicized situation will cause some of them to file bills aimed at fixing the problem and getting a little ink for the sponsor.

Up next:Correction

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