'Err On The Side of Life'

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, October 22, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: We have learned from the Associated Press that Terri Schiavo (search) is receiving fluids as a first step to resuming feeding. Just a few hours ago, Gov. Jeb Bush (search) ordered that the feeding tube be reinserted into a severely brain damaged woman, Terri Schiavo.

Florida state lawmakers had sent Governor Bush the bill earlier today that gives him the authority to step in and try to save the woman's life. But was the legislation the best thing for Terri?

Joining us now from Tallahassee is Florida's speaker of the house, Johnnie Byrd.

Speaker Byrd, thank you very much for being with us tonight.


COLMES: This woman has become, and I mentioned the phrase earlier, a political football. Is that appropriate?

BYRD: Well, you know, as the legal system wound down last week, we decided we had to do something and do something to protect her life. And we filed a bill, and the governor has now done something to have her back having nutrition and hydration. So I'm very happy to see this.

COLMES: Does the Florida constitution allow the legislature the right to give the governor the right to overrule what the courts do? And do you have a constitutional problem here?

BYRD: Not at all. The legislature sets the public policy of Florida. The legislators are elected by the people. And you know, thousands of people have e-mailed us, saying something has gone terribly wrong here and they believe the system has broken down. So we've sent a clear message to the courts that in cases like Terri's we need to err on the side of life.

COLMES: Florida courts, have they not over and over again in this case reaffirmed the right not to be kept alive, if that is what somebody wants and if that's what a family member determines that person wants? Isn't that what the court has continually decided?

BYRD: Well, regardless of what the courts have decided, the people in Florida have listened to the facts of this case or cases, and they have lost complete confidence in the judicial system.

COLMES: So you're saying if the majority of people don't like any particular court case or don't like the way a court rules any given case, the other branches of government should have the right to overrule that court? Is that the precedent you want to set in Florida?

BYRD: The precedent is the legislative branch sets public policy, and the courts implement that and execute the public policy. And so we've had a situation where the court misinterpreted the law. And now we've sent a clear message this that in cases like Terri's, we should err on the side of life, and that is happening as we speak.

COLMES: By the way, Republican president of the Senate, King, who I believe is on the hospice board in Florida, he is against this. Although I know he procedurally was involved. But he has been for what you're doing.

So this is not just a left/right issue. He's a Republican and does not side with you on this, correct?

BYRD: That is correct. We decided over the weekend that we had to do something to save her life. And you know, whether you were for or against her, you had to make sure that we did not make a mistake. And the only way to not make a mistake was to save her life and let this thing play out at a slower pace. Because letting her die would be a horrible thing.

COLMES: How do you know she's not suffering by staying alive?

BYRD: Take a look at the videos. Her parents love her. She looks like a beautiful young lady. They love to take care of her. And who are you and I to say that her quality of life is not worth living? So...

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Mr. Speaker. Let me applaud you -- Sean Hannity here -- and what you guys did today. I think it was the right thing to do.

Can I ask you this question. Governor Bush had been saying he needed the legal ability to do this. Was he communicating that with you? Were you working closely with him in putting this together?

BYRD: Well, we communicated over the last several weeks, and as the legal proceedings wound down this weekend I just made a decision. I called the governor, I said, "We've got to do something." I called the senate president and we forged ahead, because it's important. It's a human life.

HANNITY: But the governor wanted the power. He felt like he did not have any legal recourse here. He had been advised by his attorneys that that was not possible, correct? Is that correct?

BYRD: Yes. I believe the governor did everything he could do, and it was time for us to take the lead and make sure that we saved her life. Have a moratorium, slow down. Because the alternative was something you could not undo or have a redo. She would have been dead.

HANNITY: Let me get you to respond to Michael Schiavo's attorney. He said it was an astonishing power grab by both the governor and you in the legislature. What do you say to that?

BYRD: I say public policy is sent by the legislature. And we sent a clear message to the courts that they should err on the side of life and save this young lady's life. And that's the way it should be.

HANNITY: But now I understand a Florida judge even got involved between the time you did this today and denied this motion to stop the governor from keeping this brain-damaged woman alive. So they've already tried, correct, once?

BYRD: I think it's in another case is going on as we sit here. It's been an amazing attempt to end this lady's life and have her die this terrible death.

HANNITY: Yes. I mean, I'd hate to see a situation, Mr. Speaker, where she goes six days without any fluids or any feeding of any kind, and then she gets fed for six or seven days and it's pulled out again, put on again. I mean, nobody can live like this. This is, you know, madness in my view.

BYRD: We need to let her loving parents take care of her. She has a quality of life that she deserves to live.

HANNITY: All right. Well, let me ask you this. One thing, as I read the bill that you authorized here and you guys passed and I give you all the credit for. This one-time stay. This is the only time the governor can do this. So if, for some reason, some court says, "No, pull that tube out again," you guys got to get back in session.

BYRD: I'll be in session every day if I can save someone's life, Sean. That's the most important thing on Earth, and I think we need to make sure that we err on the side of life.

HANNITY: Why didn't you -- why did you make it a one-time or one-time stay? Why didn't you, you know, make it that the governor can do it whenever he likes?

BYRD: Well, what we gave the governor is the right within 15 days of today to enter the stay, and the stay would be permanent until we had to do something different with -- the legislature meets in spring, and we'll take it up then.

HANNITY: And the court cannot, in any way, from this point forward stop this girl from getting this feeding tube put back in? You see no legal recourse for them?

BYRD: Well, what that's the intention of the legislature. And certainly the courts can decide that they want to make public policy, but that's not what they're there for.

HANNITY: But if they do that, you will respond? And you will call a special session, and you will work with the governor and the senate?

BYRD: I'll do everything in my power to save her life, because I believe that she has a quality of life. We should protect it.

COLMES: We thank you for being with us tonight. Thank you very much.

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