House Passes Bill to Block Removal of Florida Woman's Feeding Tube
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: March 17, 2005
Filed at 1:45 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress was immersed Thursday in the controversy over removing the feeding tube from a brain-damaged Florida woman whose husband has been given permission by a state court to let her die.
Within hours of the Republican-controlled House's passage of a bill to block the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., announced the Senate would take up a separate bill to address the situation before leaving for its Easter recess on Friday.
"The question is, should we allow her to be starved to death?'' Frist said Thursday in a Senate speech. "It has to do with the culture of life. And I believe this body is going to have to speak on this particular matter before we leave.''
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he sees potential problems with the legislation, but said he was willing to work with the Republicans to try and resolve them.
Schiavo's husband has battled her parents over his efforts to allow her to die, which he contends she would prefer rather than live in a vegetative state.
On Thursday, Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, filed an emergency motion at the Supreme Court to stop the removal of her feeding tube so lower courts can consider whether their daughter's religious freedom and due process rights have been violated.
In Florida, the state House on Thursday began debating a bill aimed at keeping Schiavo's feeding tube in place. But the Senate was expected to take up its own bill later in the day, and the differences could be impossible to reconcile before Friday, some legislators have said.
The House bill is more stringent. It would require that patients in a persistent vegetative state receive nutrition and hydration unless they had a living will or left specific oral instructions refusing the measures. The Senate bill would block the denial of food and water only in cases where family members disagreed on whether to keep it in place. Then, the patient would be kept alive unless he or she had expressed different wishes in writing.
The House was expected to pass its version Thursday, giving the Senate a day to agree or send back its own version.
Gov. Jeb Bush has strongly urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would save Schiavo, as it did in 2003. That law, which allowed Bush to order doctors to restore Schiavo's feeding tube six days after it had been removed, was later declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
The bill in the U.S. House passed on a voice vote. It would move such a case to federal court. Federal judges have twice turned down efforts by the parents to move the case out of Florida courts, citing a lack of jurisdiction.
Senate Republicans are introducing a separate bill to give Schiavo and her family standing in federal court, and they hope it can be debated on Thursday, a GOP aide said.
Under the House legislation, a federal judge would decide whether withholding or withdrawing food, fluids or medical treatment from an incapacitated person violates the Constitution or U.S. law.
It would apply only to incapacitated people who had not left directives dealing with being kept alive artificially and for whom a state judge had authorized the withholding of food or medical treatment.
Schiavo, 41, suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped temporarily, and court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents disagree that was her wish and say she could improve with proper treatment.
Florida Circuit Judge George Greer has granted Michael Schiavo permission to remove the feeding tube, a ruling a state appellate court upheld Wednesday. Without the feeding tube, which the state court allowed to be removed as early as Friday, Terri Schiavo would likely die in one to two weeks.
"What's going on in Florida regarding Terri Schiavo is nothing short of inhumane,'' said House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who introduced the bill with Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla.
Some House members criticized the bill, which Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called "a dangerously reckless way to deal with some serious issues.''
"It does not deal just with feeding tubes. It would allow intervention in any decision affecting any kind of medical care. Read the bill,'' Nadler said.
The Florida appeals court said in Wednesday's ruling that the issues the Schindlers' raised were not new ones and had been dealt with previously by numerous courts.
"Not only has Mrs. Schiavo's case been given due process, but few, if any similar cases have ever been afforded this heightened level of process,'' Chief Judge Chris Altenbernd wrote.
The court also rejected the Department of Children & Families' request for a 60-day stay while that agency investigates allegations that Terri Schiavo has been abused.