- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

Conventional wisdom is clear: Washington’s intervention in the Terri Schiavo case hurt the GOP big-time. A Time Magazine poll found three-quarters of the public thought Congress was wrong to intervene after a hospice, under court order, pulled the disabled woman’s feeding tube, while 70 percent disapproved of President Bush’s role in the saga.

Funny. A new Zogby International poll shows that, when asked questions that go to the heart of the Schiavo matter, the public is very much in sync with the failed attempt by Congress and Mr. Bush to save the woman’s life.

Zogby, in a poll commissioned by the Christian Defense Coalition, found that by a 2-1 margin — 44 percent versus 24 percent — likely voters believe the law should assume a patient wants to live and be kept alive with the help of a feeding tube, if a patient — like Mrs. Schiavo — left no written statement on end-of-life care. Should hearsay be admissible (as happened with Mrs. Schiavo), when courts decide if a feeding tube should be removed? Some 57 percent said no; 31 percent said yes. If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, not on life support and without a written end-of-life directive, should he or she be denied food and water? Eighty percent said no.

The poll is not clear-cut. A majority of those questioned said elected officials should not intervene when the courts deny rights to the disabled and that elected officials shouldn’t intervene to protect a disabled person’s right to live, despite conflicting testimony. On the other hand, a razor-thin plurality, 44 percent, agreed the feds should intervene if a state court denies a disabled person food and water; 43 percent disagreed.

The bottom line: The conventional wisdom is off. It may well be other polls found voters disapproved of what Washington did, because they didn’t know Mrs. Schiavo left no written directive, that there was conflicting testimony on her end-of-life wishes or that her husband had two children with another woman.

Conventional wisdom is also wrong in defining this case as a Republican issue. Not one Democratic senator voted against the measure to send the case to federal courts. As the Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Fund noted, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton each had a choice to vote against the bill, “and they didn’t.”

Also, lefties Jesse Jackson, Nat Hentoff and Ralph Nader opposed removing the feeding tube. Ditto disability advocates. It’s a bedrock issue: You don’t deny food and water to a disabled woman unless you know for sure she wants you to.

My favorite post-Schiavo spin is that the Democrats are the party that wants to keep the government out of family life. Sure — if you forget the Democrats want to take teenagers’ birth control and abortion decisions away from parents, Democrats want taxpayers to pay for said birth control and abortions, and Democrats made spousal abuse a federal crime.

The kicker: A story supposed to be about the GOP running roughshod over a woman’s end-of-life wishes isn’t about her known wishes and isn’t about the GOP, but about both parties.

Polls showed Americans opposed what Washington did, but a more in-depth poll suggests most voters strongly support the sentiments that drove Washington to intervene. The Democratic Party wants government out of family matters — unless they involve children.

Other than that, the conventional wisdom is solid.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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