Schiavo case showed media's power to affect end-of-life decisions, report says

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Many factors contribute to the end-of-life decision-making process: the opinions of family and friends, financial considerations, and religion. Now, a recent report based on the Terri Schiavo news story finds that the mass media can influence the process as well.

The legal battle surrounding Schiavo, who died in 2005 after living in a persistent vegetative state, attracted widespread media attention. In 2005, during the height of the media frenzy, a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center conducted 117 interviews with participants in a study of advance directives or end-of-life contracts. Researchers discovered that the Schiavo case was dominating the interviewees' opinions over their own advance directives.

Nearly every participant in the study—92%—had heard of the Schiavo case, researchers found. Of those, more than half reportedly clarified their own end-of-life wishes and 66% discussed advanced care planning with family members—directly as a result of the Schiavo case. Still, remarkably few people discussed their wishes with a physician and an even smaller percentage actually completed advance directives, according to the report. Researchers did not discover a reason for this disconnect. The full report is available in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.