- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A judicial-confirmation hearing yesterday turned into the latest battleground over family members who want to remove feeding tubes from their loved ones.

In an effort to thwart the nomination of Claude A. Allen to the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Democrats on the committee asked him about the 1998 case of Hugh Finn, in which Mr. Allen was involved as Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources.

Mr. Finn was severely brain-damaged by a car wreck, which left him in a vegetative state. After two years of failed therapy, Mr. Finn’s wife, Michelle, decided to remove his feeding tube over the objections of his parents and siblings.

The family took its case to Mr. Allen and then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who intervened by stalling the removal of the tube. Ultimately, Mrs. Finn prevailed, but not before the saga caused a national stir much like the current situation involving Terri Schiavo in Florida.

“Mr. Allen is unafraid to abuse his discretion and use the power of office to promote his personal philosophy and moral views,” Mrs. Finn wrote in a letter distributed at yesterday’s hearing.

“This heavy-handed use of government resources to contravene the law and further his own personal beliefs demonstrates that Claude Allen cannot be entrusted with the mantle of judicial authority,” she said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, asked Mr. Allen, “What must have motivated you to inject yourself personally into this painful family decision?”

Mr. Allen defended Mr. Gilmore’s intervention, saying that Virginia’s laws at the time were not clear.

“I assure you that my role in this was very limited,” he added, saying that he merely conveyed to the governor the concerns of some of Mr. Finn’s family members.

Mr. Allen now serves as President Bush’s deputy secretary of health and human services. Before that he held various posts in Virginia, including deputy attorney general. He also served as a press secretary to former Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.

Yesterday’s hearing began with protests from Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, who argued that the seat Mr. Allen is nominated for should be reserved for someone from Maryland, as in the past.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, introduced Mr. Allen to the committee and at one point turned to the Maryland senators seated beside him, removed his spectacles and told them their beef is with the White House, not the nominee.

He recommended taking their fight back to the “boxing ring over at the White House.”

Nevertheless, Democrats were in a sparring mood during the hearing.

The first question came from Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who asked if Mr. Allen — as a public health official — supported condom use, and if so, why he hadn’t been more vocal on the topic. Mr. Allen said he does and that he has been.

The hearing also attracted a few of the outside groups that often weigh in on nominations.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for instance, dropped off press releases saying it opposes moving the nomination of Mr. Allen, who is black, out of the committee.

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