By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/21/2005 7:51:22 PM ET 2005-03-22T00:51:22

Behind the media frenzy, behind the legal battle, lays one compelling question: Would Terri Schiavo have wanted to be kept alive on a feeding tube?

Like 85 percent of Americans, Terri Schiavo never put her wishes down on paper. She never had what's called a "living will." Nationwide, an increasing number of people are putting in writing what they would want in a similar situation.

Before 25-year-old George Harden got a kidney transplant from his Aunt Millye, both said if things took a bad turn, they did not want to be kept alive on machines.

"I think because we are both to be undergoing major surgery, it's become more pertinent for me to get it legal," says Millye Koelliker.

The living will is written in non-legal terms and the simple paperwork can be filled out within minutes. After it's completed, experts say, you put it in an easy-to-find spot in your home, tell your loved ones where it is and give a copy to your doctor.

The non-profit organization Aging with Dignity says it's overwhelmed with requests for its "living will, called Five Wishes, which is legal in 36 states. No lawyer is required.

"Details are important here," says the organization's president, Paul Malley. "It's not just enough to say, 'I do or I don't want life support treatments.' And Five Wishes allows you to get specific."

Vicki O’Neil wishes that her mother had done that. Last year, battling cancer, the 71-year-old suddenly slipped into unconsciousness.

"If she had had a living will and I knew exactly what she wanted, I would have a lot of peace of mind that I did not have at the end," she says.

Finding peace of mind is something both sides in the fight over Terri Schiavo's life also say they wish they'd had.

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