- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

A group of House and Senate Republicans are working hard to approve a new law as soon as possible that would provide one last shot at federal court review for Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman whose food and water will be stopped Friday by state court order.

“We’re fighting a clock,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, who introduced the legislation last week, along with fellow Florida Republican Rep. Dave Weldon.

Under the bill, Mrs. Schiavo — who is incapacitated and has been the center of a bitter legal battle for years between her husband and her parents — would be granted a chance at federal habeas corpus review, typically only used to review death-row cases before an execution.

The bill would allow federal courts — in limited cases such as Mrs. Schiavo’s — to expand habeas corpus review to incapacitated people who are the subject of a family dispute, have no previous written directive and are the subject of a lower court order to stop their food and water.

Mrs. Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage in 1990, rendering her incapacitated. Since then, her husband, Michael, has been trying to have her feeding tube removed, arguing that his wife would not want to live in a vegetative state. A state court ruled late last month that he can do so on Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, wants to move the bill “as quickly as we can.” He plans to try to bring it up for consideration on the Senate floor this week, skipping the committee process.

In the House, supporters are pushing for quick action as well.

But, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, has scheduled a hearing on the bill for Wednesday, indicating that, at least for now, he wants to follow normal procedure.

The long legal battle over Mrs. Schiavo’s future has resulted in differing state court rulings. In 2003, her feeding tube was removed under a ruling by Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer, but reinserted six days later after the Florida legislature passed emergency legislation called “Terri’s Law” that granted Gov. Jeb Bush the right to intervene. The Florida Supreme Court has since declared the law unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Late last month, Judge Greer again ruled that Mr. Schiavo can remove his wife’s feeding tube, ceasing food and water starting Friday.

But Washington lawmakers are still hoping their effort works.

“Our Constitution guarantees that no life will be taken without due process of law and guarantees equal protection under the law,” Mr. Weldon said. “We need to make sure that these protections are clearly available to the disabled and incapacitated.”

Mr. Martinez acknowledges that it will be tough to pass a bill in one week, especially as a newly elected senator. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he hasn’t taken a position on the bill yet, but said it clearly should go through the normal committee process.

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