A Times Editorial
Congressional Republicans have forsaken their traditional politicsto exploit the Schiavo family's tragedy for gains in the next election.
Published March 22, 2005
In 1999, as governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed a bill that would allow hospitals to override the wishes of family members and remove a patient's life support when further treatment was judged futile by a hospital committee. But on Sunday, the president rushed back to Washington from his Texas ranch to sign a bill, cobbled together in an emergency weekend session of Congress, to keep one severely brain-damaged woman alive despite what her husband says - and what state courts have held - is her desire not to linger in a persistent vegetative state. Have his convictions changed? Or his politics?
With the family tragedy of Terri Schiavo transformed into a cause celebre for religious conservatives, the Republican leadership in Congress and the White House have turned it into a travesty. The likes of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and our own Republican freshman senator, Mel Martinez, have been ringmasters of a congressional circus, using outright lies and half-truths regarding Schiavo's care and condition to justify passing a highly intrusive and, we believe, unconstitutional bill.
Some lawmakers no doubt voted their convictions, but there also was a whiff of political opportunism in the air. An unsigned memo that was circulated among Republican senators over the weekend said the case could be exploited as "a great political issue" that could excite the party's "prolife base" for the next election.
Forget the Republican Party's traditional support for federalism and state's rights. It doesn't matter that Florida's courts have grappled with this case for seven years, with 19 state judges - after lengthy trials and painstaking review of the medical evidence - consistently upholding Michael Schiavo's right to carry out his wife's wishes and remove her feeding tube. It doesn't matter to Tom DeLay and Bill Frist that a brain scan and electroencephalogram indicate she has no cerebral activity. Frist said the images he saw in a short, carefully edited video of Schiavo "depicted something very different" from a persistent vegetative state. As a physician, surely he knows better.
The legislation that is now law allowed Bob and Mary Schindler, Schiavo's parents - and them alone - to bring suit in federal court on Monday claiming that Schiavo's civil rights have been violated. In the statute, the court is directed to review the allegations raised by the Schindlers without regard for any findings by Florida's courts.
Just as the 2003 law passed by the Florida Legislature applied to the Schiavo case alone, so too does this new federal law. Its sole function is to reverse a specific court judgment, and it should suffer the same fate as the 2003 law, which the Florida Supreme Court found unconstitutional.
This case has demonstrated just how beholden our Congress and president are to a narrow ideological fringe group that wants to interfere in painful, personal decisions regarding the end of life. Once again, it is up to the courts to set things right.
[Last modified March 22, 2005, 01:21:16]
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