Schiavo, severely brain-damaged and in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade, lacks a "living will" to express the degree of medical care she would have wanted in case of profound illness or injury. Rather, her husband says she had verbally expressed to him her wishes to die under those circumstances. Schiavo's life and struggles are now front and center in America's conscience, thanks in part to an extraordinary act by Congress to try to stop her husband from withdrawing a feeding tube sustaining her life.
And the Internet's also played a role. It's unlikely that a decade ago, Schiavo's case would have generated as much attention, nor would there have been such a proactive response by the public. But with the Internet at hand, someone can be moved to tears by Schiavo's plight and quickly act on the lessons they feel they've learned, whether to sign an online petition or visit any number of Web sites to download free living-will templates and advice.
And they are doing it in very large numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests. Many Web sites like, the Berkeley, Calif., legal-self-help publishers, say site traffic and living-will downloads are up, starting about five days ago. At Nolo, telephone and Web inquiries about Will Maker, which is software to generate wills and living wills, have increased by 60 percent.
It's not just well-known commercial sites like Nolo. Traffic has also increased at small, homespun legal sites like Scott Roberts' Web site, where living wills and other legal documents are available for download. "It does seem to be (faster)," Roberts said.
Perhaps an even greater measure comes from leading Internet search engine Google, where society's day-to-day attention span can be. The term "Terry Schiavo" ranked second on the Google Zeitgeist gainers, which compare search queries that have risen or fallen by a significant percentage. The listing is for March 15 through March 21.