Published March 25, 2005
WASHINGTON – As remaining legal routes dwindled for the parents of Terri Schiavo (search) in their effort to keep her alive, Republican lawmakers lamented various courts' decisions to not reinsert the severely brain-damaged woman's feeding tube.
"I'm saddened by the decision of the court to reject Terri Schiavo's case for life despite a compelling case for reexamination of the medical evidence," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said in a statement in response to the Supreme Court's decision not to intervene in the case. "It is a sad day for her loving family and for their innocent and voiceless daughter."
Frist played a key role in securing passage of legislation last weekend to give Schiavo's parents, Mary and Bob Schindler (search), access to the federal courts to argue that their daughter's feeding tube should be reinserted while legal wrangling continued.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also expressed disappointment.
In a joint statement, they said they "strongly believe that the court erred in reaching its conclusion and that once again they have chosen to ignore the clear intent of Congress."
The two lawmakers said that "federal remedies have been exhausted," and urged Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature to seek new ways to intervene.
Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "I am deeply saddened by the decision of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with Terri Schiavo and her family at this enormously difficult time."
Bush: 'Err on the Side of Life'
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that President Bush was told of the Supreme Court's decision while vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"The president looked at all options before signing the legislation last weekend," Perino said. "He felt that the legislation passed by Congress was the best course of action. Terri Schiavo's case is extraordinary and sad. As the president said yesterday, he believes that in a case such as this, the legislative branch and the executive branch should err on the side of life."
Schiavo was in her seventh day without food or water on Thursday since a Florida state court ordered her feeding tube removed last Friday per the wishes of her husband, Michael Schiavo (search).
After exhausting the lower courts in seeking an injunction, the Schindlers were denied a review from the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday. Later that day, Judge George Greer (search) in Florida ruled against Gov. Bush's request to take custody of Schiavo. Members of the U.S. Congress also attempted to influence the case.
There may be one last chance for the Schindlers, however. Thursday evening, a temporary hearing was held before U.S. District Judge James Whittemore (search) of the Middle District of Florida. During the hearing, Schiavo's parents requested a temporary restraining order so that new documents released by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services and neurologist William Cheshire (search), who works for the state, can be introduced at the federal level.
Gov. Bush's request for state custody was based on the opinion of Cheshire, who observed Schiavo at her bedside but did not conduct an examination. The neurologist said she may be in a state of minimal consciousness instead of a persistent vegetative state. Cheshire, who is with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organizations.
"The neurologist's review indicates that Terri may have been misdiagnosed and is more likely that she is in a state of minimal consciousness rather than in a persistent vegetative state. This new information raises serious concerns and warrants immediate action," Gov. Bush said.
The state courts believed her husband Michael Schiavo, who said his wife told him prior to the 1990 chemical imbalance that caused her massive brain damage that she would not have wanted to live this way. Schiavo did not have a living will; her parents say she would have wanted to live. The Schindlers also contest the diagnosis that she cannot recover.
Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, said the governor and state government were wrong to try to interfere.
The Florida Senate rejected a bill Wednesday that would have prohibited patients like Schiavo from being denied food and water if they didn't express their wishes in writing. The state House had already passed a bill with broader language than the Senate version. The Senate bill would have applied only to cases where families disagree on a patient's wishes.
Bus Brad Blakeman, a former assistant deputy to President Bush, "what this really comes down to is the ability to end life."
"The politicians on both sides are doing the right thing" in trying to save Terri's life, he said.
But Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said the best thing to do is for everyone to stay out of the personal matter.
"It's really the husband's and parents' decision to make and no one else. Look who's now involved. ... Congress, the courts, Jeb Bush should get out of this," March said.
"This is really a proxy for the abortion fight for them [Republicans]. ... This is a pox on everybody's house" if Schiavo dies, she added.
"The only people on this Earth who really seem to care about Terri Schiavo right now are her parents."
Schiavo a 'Political Pawn'?
Frist and Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Mel Martinez of Florida filed a friend-of-the-court brief Thursday with the Supreme Court before its ruling, siding with Schiavo's parents.
Several Republican House members did the same, arguing that the lower federal courts ignored the law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush on Monday that Schiavo's feeding tube had to be reinserted while they looked at the case anew.
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., criticized DeLay and other Republicans, not only for getting involved in the case in the first place, but also for trying to capitalize politically on the Schiavo case.
"I find it shameful that Mr. Delay and Republicans have used Ms. Schiavo as their political pawn to kowtow to their conservative base. In the process, they have decided that the rule of law is only worth respecting if they agree with the results. These manipulative actions are anything but compassionate and set an absolutely frightening precedent," Wexler said in a statement.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., called for an investigation into an alleged weekend memo by Santorum that suggested that getting involved in the Schiavo case would help the GOP appeal to its conservative base.
For his part, DeLay cast the debate over Schiavo in religious and political terms at the same time.
"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what is going on in America, that Americans would be so barbaric as to pull a feeding tube out of a person that is lucid and starve them to death," he said. "This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."
DeLay made his remarks Friday, and they were made public Wednesday by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a liberal group. DeLay spokesman Dan Allen accused Democrats and their allies of "launching politically motivated attacks questioning the motives of those trying to save Terry Schiavo."
Meanwhile, a House committee scrapped plans to hold a Good Friday hearing at Schiavo's hospice.
A Senate committee pressed ahead with plans to hold a hearing on Monday in Washington on health issues raised by Schiavo's case, although some GOP officials said they expected it may be put off. Republicans at one point had talked of placing a video or audio recorder in Schiavo's hospice room as part of the session, according to two officials familiar with the discussions, but have now discarded the idea.
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui Liss, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.