For Immediate Release
Contact: Joan Civile
U.S. Living Will Registry
Phone: (908) 654-1441 Fax: (908) 654-1919
Lawyers, health care providers, and public join service that stores advance directives
Westfield, New Jersey – (May 16, 2005) — Ever since a Florida judge ordered the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube on March 18, the staff of the U.S. Living Will Registry has been very busy. National media coverage of the court ordered cessation of tube feedings to the brain damaged Schiavo, despite objections from her parents and the involvement of state and federal governments, caused an increase in public interest in living wills and advance medical directives. Advance directives—living wills and health care proxies—are legal documents that allow people to direct their health care when they are too ill to speak for themselves.
“Visits to our web site increased from 500 per day to 30,000 per day,” said Dr. Joseph Barmakian, President of the Westfield , New Jersey based U.S. Living Will Registry. Since she was unable to speak for herself, and left no written advance directive expressing her wishes, family members disagreed on whether or not Ms. Schiavo would have wanted the feedings to continue. A Florida judge sided with Ms. Schiavo’s husband and ordered the removal of her feeding tube, igniting an intense legal and political battle. “Whatever side of the issue people took, they all agreed that they would not want to be in a similar situation, and would not want to place their families in that situation…everyone wanted to prepare a living will,” continued Barmakian.
The U.S. Living Will Registry electronically stores advance directives and makes them available to all hospitals 24 hours a day via secure Internet web site and automated telephone/fax system. People can register their documents with the Registry free of charge through member health care providers and community partners. Since the Schiavo case, interest in the Registry has surged, and many new member providers and partners have joined the service. “The number of registrations is up over 150%, and we are receiving inquiries from hospitals, health systems, lawyers, insurance companies, community groups and even some state governments,” said Barmakian. “People are realizing the importance of having a central storage place for these documents that is easily accessible by health care providers,” he continued.
The San Diego chapter of End of Life Choices, an organization dedicated to the principles of “Death with Dignity”, recently became a Community Partner of the Registry. “In becoming a Community Partner of the U.S. Living Will Registry,” said Ken Fousel, President of San Diego End of Life Choices, “we are pleased to offer our members the assurance that in emergencies any health care provider can obtain the personal guidance of their patient’s wishes about critical decisions. This is a most positive step forward, certainly arising out of the unfortunate Terri Schiavo case.”
HospiceMidland also signed up with the Registry. “Too many times we have seen family members left to shoulder the burden of decision making while attempting to honor loved ones,” said Vicki Jay, Community Education Director for the Midland, Texas hospice. “As an outreach to our community, we hope to encourage families to have healthy conversations before the need arises, offer tools to document those conversations, and finally provide permanent access to those documents. In our philosophy of ‘neighbor serving neighbor’ we are honored to offer the gift of the U.S. Living Will Registry to our community,” she continued.
Attorneys and estate planners were also deluged with requests to prepare advance directives in the aftermath of the Schiavo case. Attorney Jim Fields, of Chattanooga , Tennessee recently joined the Registry. He became a Community Partner because he felt it was a good benefit for his clients. “With this service their living will can be accessed by hospitals anywhere in the country,” he said. Registering their clients’ documents in the Registry answers a question commonly asked of lawyers: “Where should I keep my advance directive?” Salih Acarbulut of Legacy Financial Management, also in Chattanooga , says that he has been a proponent of living wills for 20 years. “You should put your life in order by creating a living will while you are able to make your own end-of-life decisions, and can discuss your choices with your family. Registering it is a good way to be sure it is available when needed,” he said of his decision to join the Registry.
“Our service is unique in that it provides lifetime membership, there is no need to worry about renewing every year,” says Barmakian. “We send a yearly update letter to each registrant, allowing them to update their personal and emergency contact information, and to confirm that their advance directive still reflects their wishes. An outdated document could raise doubts as to whether the document still reflects their wishes,” he continued.
Established in 1996, the U.S. Living Will Registry electronically stores advance directives and organ donor information, and makes them available 24 hours a day to hospitals and health care providers. Information on advance directives and state-specific forms can be found on the Registry’s web site. For more information on the Registry,
visit www.uslivingwillregistry.com, or call 1-800-LIV-WILL.