Giuliani flips on Schiavo case

Published May 5, 2007

When Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani came to the home county of Terri Schiavo last month, he said he supported the controversial effort by Congress to intervene to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive.

But now it's not so clear where he stands on the Schiavo case.

In a televised presidential debate Thursday night, Giuliani suggested the Schiavo controversy should have been left to the courts.

"The family was in dispute. That's what we have courts for. And the better place to decide that in a much more, I think in a much fairer and even in a deeper way, is in front of a court, " he said at the first GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan library in California.

In April, Giuliani had explained his position this way: Noting that the controversy had been through the court system for years, he said the 2005 congressional intervention, "was appropriate to make every effort to give her a chance to stay alive. ... My general view is, you should do everything you can to keep somebody alive unless they have expressed a strong interest in not having very, very special things done, extraordinary things done."

Giuliani's campaign spokesman, Elliott Bundy, on Friday tried to clarify Giuliani's apparent contradictions on Schiavo: "Last night Mayor Giuliani said that ideally these types of difficult issues are best left up to families and when there are disputes, it is a matter for the courts to decide. As he said in Florida in April, there are sometimes extraordinary circumstances where the intentions of the person in question are not clear. The Schiavo case was one of those very special circumstances."

A family dispute

Terri Schiavo died in 2005 at age 41 after a protracted legal fight between her husband, who said she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means, and her parents and siblings, who said the judges were effectively starving her to death, and that she still could have recovered.

"Anybody hurts themselves by being inconsistent on this particular subject, " said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who led the state legislative efforts to keep Schiavo alive in 2005. "In retrospect, it's not popular to be associated with it, but when you're in the middle of it, you don't deal with whether it's popular, you have to deal with whether it's right."

"Mr. Giuliani needs to figure out what he really believes about these important issues of privacy and the rule of law, " said Derek Newton, a Democratic consultant and spokesman for Terripac, the political committee started by Terri Schiavo's husband. "But if he believes what he said last - that this issue is a legal one and not a political one - he is squarely in tune with most Americans, and we applaud him."

In the Republican presidential race, Baxley is supporting Mitt Romney, who recently surprised political observers by saying in Tampa Bay that the Schiavo matter should have been resolved in the courts, seemingly putting him at odds with Jeb Bush.

Other GOP views

On Thursday night, though, Romney suggested then-Gov. Bush was right to intervene, but not Congress.

"In the case here, the courts decided what they thought was the right thing to do. And then I think Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature did the right thing by saying, 'We've got a concern.' They looked over the shoulder of the court. But I think the decision of Congress to get involved was a mistake, " the former Massachusetts governor said.

Arizona Sen. John McCain said lawmakers were moved by the pictures of Schiavo, but "in retrospect, we should have taken some more time, looked at it more carefully, and probably we acted too hastily."

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback said Congress was right to intervene.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com.