Schiavo tube could be back in Monday

Congress is expected to consider a bill today that would force Terri Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted.

Published March 20, 2005

WASHINGTON - In an extraordinary 11th-hour move, congressional leaders Saturday brokered a deal that they expect will force a federal judge to order Terri Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted as early as Monday.

Both the U.S. House and Senate expect to meet today in an emergency session on Palm Sunday to consider a bill that may prolong the seven-year battle in the right-to-die case by sending it to federal court in Tampa for a full review.

"We should exhaust every avenue before we take a life of a human being," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said. "That's the very least we can do for her."

President Bush altered his schedule to return to Washington from his Texas ranch to be ready to sign the legislation into law.

"Everyone recognizes that time is important here," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "This is about defending life."

The House will meet today at 1 p.m. to take up the bill, titled "A act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo." It would send the case to federal court for a full review of the facts and a determination of whether Schiavo's rights were violated.

If any single member objects, the House would not be able to continue and would return Monday at 12:01 a.m. to vote on the bill.

Already, at least four Democratic House members are planning to object, including three Floridians, among them Tampa's Jim Davis.

"Florida has a law that is being followed by the judge and the families," said Davis, who is running for governor. "This terrible situation is handled by the courts to keep the politics out of it. And what the politicians in Washington are doing is violating this principle by injecting their own personal politics into the situation, without any knowledge of the facts."

Lawmakers moved as Schiavo's desperate mother walked outside the hospice that is her daughter's home and pleaded for someone to intervene and keep her daughter alive.

"My daughter is in the building behind me, starving to death," Mary Schindler said. She called on President Bush and other politicians to "please, please, please save my little girl."

The flurry of congressional activity came 24 hours after Schiavo's feeding tube had been removed for the third time in a saga that has drawn attention around the world. Schiavo, 41, is expected to die within two weeks unless the tube is reinserted.

Schiavo has been in what the courts have ruled is a persistent vegetative state, her brain virtually destroyed after suffering cardiac arrest 15 years ago.

For a case as unpredictable as it is dramatic, the congressional action sets up a potential constitutional showdown between the courts and legislative branch of government whose outcome is anything but certain.

"It appears that the miracle to save Terri's life will come from the United States Congress," said David Gibbs III, attorney for Bob and Mary Schindler, Schiavo's parents. When asked about developments in Washington, Bob Schindler said, "We're elated primarily because they put politics to one side and are concentrating on saving Terri's life."

The rushed legislative work to extend Schiavo's life mirrors action taken by Florida lawmakers in 2003 when they adopted a law that forced doctors to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube after it had been removed for six days. That law was later declared unconstitutional.

Gov. Bush signed the order forcing doctors in 2003 to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube. Now his brother, the president, stands ready to sign into law a measure that may do the same.

Michael Schiavo, who has maintained his wife would not want to live by artificial means, angrily lashed out at lawmakers after visiting his wife.

"In the end, they're the ones who are going to look like fools, especially Tom DeLay and the cronies who work for him," Schiavo said in an interview. "These people just don't care. They don't care what the law says. They make it up as they go."

In contrast to the action in Congress, the scene at the hospice Saturday was more subdued, though police made the first arrests in demonstrations. A crowd of up to 50 protesters stood vigil over the scene. Pinellas Park police made four peaceful arrests for trespassing. The four people made a symbolic effort to enter hospice grounds saying they wanted to bring Schiavo water.

But a larger group of five to 10 others temporarily called off their plan to attempt to enter the hospice to bring Terri bread and water because the Schindler family asked them to hold off.

But all eyes and the hopes of the Schindlers' supporters were on Washington and what is thought to be one of the last options to keep Schiavo alive. The flurry of activity between the Senate and House was brokered behind closed doors even as the U.S. Capitol's marbled hallways were all but empty except for tourists. The House and Senate each recessed Thursday night, but key negotiators were meeting or spoke by phone around the clock over the weekend to craft a compromise bill that both chambers could pass.

After a last-ditch effort by Congress to keep the tube inserted past a Friday afternoon deadline by using the body's power of subpoena, congressional leaders felt even more pressure to pass something, anything, that would keep Schiavo alive longer.

"Under the legislation we will soon consider Terri Schiavo will have another chance," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in an unusual Saturday evening session.

The Senate and House expect to meet in emergency sessions today in a rare move for Congress, which generally reserves weekend meetings for large, must-do items.

Reps. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, both Democrats, also oppose the bill, and will object.

"It's just abominable that the Republicans would politicize the life of one dying woman," Wasserman Schultz said. "I'm completely shocked of the callousness and insensitivity and the length the Republicans will go to play politics."

Despite the Democratic objections, which would forestall action, congressional leaders are certain they have enough votes, and will pass the bill on Monday, perhaps as early as 12:01 a.m. when they don't have such strict rules about objections. If the House were to vote this afternoon, the Senate would convene at 2 p.m. If the vote doesn't come until after midnight, the Senate will meet Monday.

The Senate and House passed their own bills last week but failed to agree on a the same version. Members were bombarded by calls and e-mails from groups and individuals who wanted Schiavo to remain alive, and the desire to keep their conservative base satisfied.

The compromise was similar to a Senate bill passed Thursday that would let a federal court review the state judge's decision in the Schiavo case. House Republicans had favored broader legislation that applied to similar cases. The new bill includes language that indicates Congress will reconsider a broader bill for other incapacitated people later this session.

"There is a broader question here," Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat. "There are a lot of people in the shadows that are incapacitated. There ought to be a broader type of review." DeLay spent the day working the phone, calling members, and even stood on the Senate floor as they met Saturday evening. Dressed in a suit and tie, he appeared TV cameras to explain why Congress was taking these extraordinary measures for one woman.

"The U.S. Constitution protects life of a human being taken by other human beings needlessly," he said.

DeLay was criticized for some of his strong comments Friday, and toned them down a day later but still took an opportunity to slam Michael Schiavo.

"I don't have a lot of respect for a man who has treated a woman in this way," he said. "What kind of man is he?"

Michael Schiavo said DeLay, facing ethics inquiries over accusations that he violated House travel rules, knew nothing about his wife.

"Let me tell you something," Schiavo said, "Tom DeLay should worry about his own problems before worrying about Terri."

Times staff writers Rob Farley, Jeffrey S. Solochek, Wes Allison and Jade Jackson Lloyd contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.