TAMPA - It's been seven years since the agonizing saga of Terri Schiavo ended with her death in Pinellas Park. The fight over whether to disconnect life support for the comatose young woman tore apart her family and divided the nation over a very personal decision.
On Friday, leading doctors and researchers in Tampa held a forum at Stetson Law School to recall the lessons of Terri Schiavo's life and death.
The charts and graphs at the afternoon lecture told a story of skyrocketing health costs, most of which come at the very end of our lives.
"We put more people in hospitals, and perform the most procedures than anyone else. and we get the least bang for the buck in terms of investment" said USF professor, Dr. Jay Wolfson, one of the featured speakers.
In the audience, 70 year old Star Porter listened as she faced a wrenching decision she may have to make for her husband in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease .
"I'm going to be doing or try to be doing the right thing, listening to see what other people have done. Basically I'm looking for advice, somebody to help me with this" said Porter.
The Emerson Forum sponsored the discussion named for Terri Shiavo who's heart stopped at age 26 leaving her bed ridden and unresponsive. After years of unsuccessful therapies her husband Michael sought to remove Terri's feeding tube. The objection of Terri's parents launched a legal battle that attracted the attention (some say the meddling) of the legislature the Governor, the Congress even the President.
Dr. Jay Wolfson spent many hours with Terri Shiavo when he was appointed as her guardian ad litem.
Wolfson believes the seven year agony of Terri Shiavo would never have happened had she written down her wishes in the form of a medical directive or living will.
"Not only are we probably going to find ourselves on the short end of the stick on the things we want done, but we place tremendous burdens on our families and on society" said Wolfson.
The burden on society is clear. And though opponents to health care reform warn of death panels, these experts believe many expensive tests and procedures cause pain and financial hardship without improving the quality of life.
Janice Van Dyck, author of a book on the subject speaks about being caught in the "curative system".
"In this medical system, we need to believe that we need to find a cure when sometimes the answer, I think is to help someone have a peaceful death".
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