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Profiles in political courage

A Times Editorial
Published March 23, 2005

The vulgar politics of life and death that surround Terri Schiavo have produced a form of emotional extortion, one in which compassion in end-of-life cases is equated with conspiracy to murder. Leave it to a genuine conservative like state Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, to refuse to succumb.

"All we're doing is what we think is our right and our obligation, not necessarily as Republicans, but as human beings," King told reporters Monday. "I have a personal feeling about what's right. I think Terri is better off in heaven than in bed."

King is among nine Senate Republicans who have resisted the pressure of their party and their governor, choosing instead to respect the state's Death with Dignity Act. The law was designed in part to get government out of these deeply personal decisions and, in cases where families may disagree, allow a judge to impartially review the facts. That is precisely what happened in the Schiavo case, which is why the unseemly gamesmanship in Tallahassee and Washington is all the more offensive.

King was not alone in his courage. State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, supported Terri's bill in 2003, one ultimately declared unconstitutional, but this time: "I voted no, because the last time I voted yes and it was the wrong vote." State Rep. Everett Rice, the former Pinellas sheriff, voted no and found himself on the receiving end of an Internet smear campaign charging him with "conspiracy, collusion and coverup." Rep. Leslie Waters, R-Seminole, who rarely departs from the party line, also voted no: "It is my opinion that the Legislature should stay out of family court issues."

In the courtrooms, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer, a former Republican county commissioner, has faithfully followed the law that guides end-of-life decisions even as he became the target of death threats and was pressured to leave his church.

In Washington, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Crystal River, was one of only five Republicans to break ranks, saying "I was not elected to make individual families' decisions." Across the political aisle, Democrats were running for cover. But Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, who is running for governor in 2006, wasn't cowed. He voted against the congressional bill to order federal courts to intervene: "If we do not draw the line in the sand today, there is no limit to what democratic principles this Congress will ignore or what liberties they may trample on next."

Unfortunately, Florida's U.S. senators, Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, were not so principled. Both played the life-and-death game, though Nelson tried so hard to be invisible that his spokesman was left to explain that he deemed the medical opinions to be conflicting. Did the senator read them? Martinez, of course, wouldn't think of crossing his political masters, Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush.

The agonizing political and judicial journey is not over yet for Terri Schiavo. But one day she will depart this life, and it is worth remembering those who would have had her leave in peace.

[Last modified March 24, 2005, 22:43:32]

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