Giuliani's bumbling on right-to-die issue

Published May 11, 2007

Forget abortion rights. The opinions Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has now expressed on the right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo make him look both unprincipled and out of touch. That's a clumsy combination.

Schiavo spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state before she died two years ago after her feeding tube was removed. Her court case attracted international attention and spurred controversial attempts by Florida's governor and Legislature, and the president and Congress, to intervene.

For Giuliani, though, his position seems to be a work in progress. In 2005, on the day after Schiavo died, he told the New York Post: "I think the right decision would have been to keep the feeding tube in."

Last month, in a visit to Pinellas, he went further, saying congressional intervention was "appropriate to make every effort to give her a chance to stay alive."

In last week's televised debate, though, Giuliani reversed field: "The family was in dispute. That's what we have courts for."

In this Republican presidential primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may actually have taken Schiavo doubletalk to its most cynical art form, arguing that state political intervention (translation: need former Gov. Jeb Bush and his Florida supporters) was appropriate while federal (translation: who cares about Congress?) was not.

Giuliani, on the other hand, sounds too rambling to be so calculating. Here is a flavor of how the former New York mayor answered the Times last month, when asked whether he supported congressional intervention:

"I believe I did. I don't, I, it's a while ago and I think I said that I thought every effort should be made to keep her alive. I don't know that I supported the, the whole thing to the very end, but I am not sure now. ... Honestly I don't remember now the final ... I am not sure I was asked in the last couple weeks of it."

Giuliani was better prepared and more succinct in the debate. Then again, he took an opposing view. Either way, this isn't pretty.