- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

The feeding tube of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman at the center of a bitter family battle, was removed yesterday afternoon despite a unprecedented attempt by congressional leaders to save her life by calling her to appear before Congress.

Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer denied the congressional move and reinstated his order that Mrs. Schiavo’s food and water be stopped, though it will take seven to 14 days for her to die.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers promised to work throughout the weekend to enforce their calls for her to testify, and to have a bill ready to vote on Monday that would allow her family one last appeal for a federal review of the case to make sure her rights are being protected by her husband, Michael, who also serves as her legal guardian.

“Right now, murder is being committed against a defenseless American citizen in Florida,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. “Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube should be immediately replaced, and Congress will continue working to explore ways to save her.”

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also said he would work through the weekend to secure enough votes so the Florida Legislature can pass a measure to help Mrs. Schiavo.

Mrs. Schiavo’s husband, Michael, has been fighting to remove her feeding tube, arguing that his wife wouldn’t want to live in her vegetative state. His attorney, George Felos, yesterday said Congress’ last-minute attempt to intervene was “odious, it was shocking, it was disgusting.”

Mr. Felos also berated Senate Democrats, telling them if they don’t defend Mrs. Schiavo’s right to die from further interference, “they deserve to be the minority party.”

The House Government Reform Committee early yesterday issued subpoenas for Mrs. Schiavo, her husband, doctors, and the administrators of the Florida hospice where she resides to appear at a committee hearing at the hospice nextt Friday.

The Senate opted to request Mrs. Schiavo and her husband as witnesses in a committee hearing on March 28. Senate Republican leaders said federal law prohibits anyone from interfering with a congressional witness’ ability to testify, and allows a temporary restraining order to be issued if someone does try to interfere.

Mrs. Schiavo suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage in 1990, rendering her incapacitated. Since then, she has been the center of a bitter legal battle between her husband and her parents, who are fighting to keep her alive. Judge Greer ruled late last month that Mr. Schiavo’s request could be granted yesterday.

The House and Senate hearings were billed as inquiries into the long-term care of incapacitated persons like Mrs. Schiavo. But they were also aimed at preserving her life while the lawmakers try to reach agreement on legislation that would allow the woman’s parents to move the case to federal court for review.

“The sanctity of life overshadows the sanctity of marriage,” Mr. DeLay said. He said that unless Mrs. Schiavo had previous written instructions, “I don’t care what her husband said.”

Both chambers deadlocked Thursday on the legislative front, with each chamber approving different bills. House leaders yesterday publicly rebuked Senate Democrats and urged them to agree to the House bill. Mr. DeLay blamed Senate Democrats for blocking the House bill and called it “an unprecedented profile in cowardice.”

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said in a joint statement last night they were “disappointed” in yesterday’s outcome and “committed to reaching an agreement” between their two chambers on legislation to save Mrs. Schiavo’s life. They pledged to work through the weekend to do so.

Privately, talks were going on between interested parties. House lawmakers, led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said they will not accept the Senate bill because it is poorly crafted. Only the House bill, he said, guarantees Mrs. Schiavo a federal court hearing.

The Senate bill would apply only to Mrs. Schiavo’s case, allowing her parents to request a federal court review. The House bill would allow any incapacitated person without a living will to receive federal court review of the case before food and water are stopped.

Some said Congress grossly overstepped its bounds in the case.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, said Congress is turning the family’s tragedy into a “national political farce,” with their “flagrant abuse of power.”

“These subpoenas are unenforceable,” he said. “Congress has no authority to use subpoenas to tell doctors what treatment they can and cannot provide to any individual under their care.”

Legal author Bruce Fein said there is no precedent for using a subpoena like this. “This is the epitome of grandstanding and irresponsible use of federal power. It’s a disgrace to any conservative,” Mr. Fein said.

He said it was the equivalent of a liberal member of Congress claiming the right to subpoena a death-row inmate in order to prevent an execution.

But William H. Moore, a history professor at the University of Wyoming who has written about congressional investigations, said historically Congress has had wide authority when conducting investigations. “I can tell you that if Congress chose to exercise its subpoena power, it pretty much is unlimited, if they chose to press the issue,” he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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