The Right to Live or Die

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 21, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Terri Schiavo's (search) case fueling a heated debate on the culture of life. Michael Schiavo saying Terri wouldn't have wanted to live in this condition, while the Schindler family is claiming their daughter's civil and religious rights are being infringed on.

I'm joined now by Ken Connor, the chief attorney representing Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Terri's Law, and the chairman of the Center for a Just Society, and David Leven, executive director of Compassion and Choices.

Mr. Connor, normally we expect Republicans to argue that the federal government should stay out of the state's business here. What is the reason, the legal reasoning, for Congress and the president to interfere with what has been a long string of court decisions in Florida?

KEN CONNOR, CHAIRMAN, CENTER FOR A JUST SOCIETY: Well, John, both Republicans and Democrats alike obviously share the consensus that when it comes to protecting federally granted constitutional rights, the federal courts are an appropriate venue to evaluate whether or not the state has protected and respected those rights.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that no person shall be deprived by any state of life without due process of law.

We accord habeas corpus review to Ted Bundy and the serial killers on death row. Terri Schiavo, who is utterly innocent of any wrongdoing, we maintain she should have the same rights to review that people on death row have.

GIBSON: But, Ken, if I can just interrupt, are you saying there are no politics involved here, that there isn't a political ground swell, that there isn't some political hay being made over the Terri Schiavo case?

CONNOR: No. I would say that good policy makes good politics and that Republicans and Democrats alike, liberals and conservatives alike came together behind the notion that before we permit an innocent person to die by an order of the court, we do well to ensure that their constitutional rights have been protected and respected by the state courts.

The states have had a sad and sorry history of giving the short shrift of people's constitutional rights. That's why we have the 14th Amendment in the first place.

GIBSON: All right.

David Leven, explain to me why is it we know — and you're confident you know — that Terri Schiavo's wish is to not continue to live in this persistent vegetative state?

DAVID LEVEN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMPASSION AND CHOICES: I can't say that I know, but I can say that the courts have conclusively found, by clear and convincing evidence, that these were her wishes, that she expressed her wishes that she would not want to live in this condition.

GIBSON: Is that through her husband who now has another wife, if you will, and kids? But he is the one, Michael Schiavo, who gave testimony that she said this is what she wanted. And that's what this whole thing rests on?

LEVEN: It is primarily that — although he wanted to keep her alive for a very long period of time. He did not start trying to have the feeding tubes removed until years after she had the feeding tubes placed in her to keep her alive.

GIBSON: What is your objection to the federal courts reviewing the case?

My objection is I think what the courts, what Congress has done is really a travesty. Congress has no right to come in in a case like this, a one-person case. And what it has done, really, is fundamentally interfered with the right of people's self-determination to make health care decisions for themselves.

GIBSON: You say Congress should not be able to take a look and question whether this is what she really wanted, that this is her determination?

LEVEN: Congress should not be getting involved in this case at all. The case has been up and down, through the courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, which refused to hear the appeal of the State of Florida after the Florida state legislature had passed a law giving the governor the authority to order the re-insertion of the feeding tube after it had been removed. In fact, the Florida State Supreme Court decided 9-0 in that case.

CONNOR: The truth is that the federal courts have never reviewed the merits of Terri Schiavo's case, and the federal courts have never reviewed whether or not she was afforded the constitutional protections that are due her.

The reality is that federal courts historically have reviewed state court proceedings that wind up either confining people and depriving them of their liberty or ordering their deaths.

They typically review those proceedings to see whether or not, in fact, their federally protected constitutional rights have been protected.

In this case, for example, Terri Schiavo never had a lawyer during the course of the trial which resulted in the court ordering her death. She never had a lawyer in any of the ensuing appeals.

Her husband had lawyers. They were funded by the moneys that had been generated by the litigation aimed at providing her with rehabilitation. Her parents had lawyers. The governor had lawyers. But Terri Schiavo never had a lawyer.

Can you imagine — can you imagine Ted Bundy having no lawyer?

GIBSON: I've got to run. Will you make a prediction on what this federal judge is going to decide?

LEVEN: I think it's very difficult to know what the federal judge is going to decide. I think he's under a lot of pressure from both sides. But what's most important in this case, frankly, is that in the future people have advance directives. This whole tragic situation could have been avoided had Terri Schiavo had an advance directive.

GIBSON: David Leven, thank you very much.

Ken Connor, thank you both.

Content and Programming Copyright 2005 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.