This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," March 25, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: The legal wrangling over Terri Schiavo's fate is only part of this agonizing debate over life and death, and who decides for those unable to voice their own preferences. A lot of questions have been raised by this case. How has it changed the debate over preserving or ending life?
Syndicated columnist and FOX News contributor, Charles Krauthammer, is a frequent panelist on this program. You may not realize he is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and also a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. Charles, thanks for coming in on this.
DR. CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Pleasure.
ANGLE: It appears, at least the way things are now headed, that Terri Schiavo will be allowed to die. What will be the legacy of this case and of her ordeal?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think it's a case that people will remember and it will heighten our awareness of the incredibly difficult issues in these kinds of case, particularly in cases where the person can't speak on behalf of themselves.
Traditionally when we talk about the right to die, we speak about it in cases of people that are terminally ill and in horrible suffering. We now have a law in Oregon and the debate over that is are you allowed that, ought you assist that? And in those cases, you have got a person who speaks on his own behalf and says I want to die. Well, none of those conditions apply in this case.
She is not terminally ill. She is not in suffering. Even the people who want to pull the plug on her are saying if she starved to death, she wouldn't have any pain. And she obviously does not speak on her own behalf.
So, it is the hardest possible case and I think it's made us think about how do we speak on behalf of somebody who can't speak? And that is the crux of this issue right here.
ANGLE: One of the difficult parts of this is the legal principle the courts have relied on is that the spouse is the guardian and has the final say. Even when the parents of Terri Schiavo in this case disagree and want to keep her alive. Is there any other way to dissolve disputes like this over life and death, when you have this kind of division of opinion within the family?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think that's what people ought to look at today because the logic is, and generally speaking, the spouse is the one you'd want speaking on behalf of the person. The spouse, after all, you choose your spouse and not your parents.
And also if you are an adult, you spend your adult life with the spouse and not with the parents. So, it is logical that in general it ought to be that the spouse that speaks on behalf and who's given the surrogacy, if you like.
But obviously we now have a case in which you have got a spouse who has, let's say a conflict of interest, we might say in a political context. He's got a woman he lives with. He's got two children by her. So, I'm not necessarily saying that he is not speaking honestly on behalf of Terri. But we cannot read into his heart and his motives.
So, in a case like that of obvious conflict, and in which you have the parents who say they want her to live, I think we might want to look at changing the laws that automatically assign the surrogacy of the supremacy to the spouse. And perhaps have a law, which says there is a division among the family. We probably ought to err on the side of awarding custody to those who want the person to live.
ANGLE: Now, there was evidence introduced in the state courts over the long course of this trial that there was, quote-unquote, "clear and convincing evidence" that she had said she did not want to be kept alive under circumstances like these.
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think the evidence is hardly clear and convincing. If she'd left a living will or anything in writing, or durable power of attorney, yes, you'd be able to say that was clear and convincing. Clearly not. The husband says he heard her comment on this. It's his hearsay. Again, he's a person who may not be a reliable witness. We really don't know.
And even if you leave a written instruction, you never really know how you'll feel after something happens where you change your mind, as you accommodate yourself to a new and perhaps difficult reality. So, we really do not know.
And we don't know the other key question, is there anybody home? Is she — is there any consciousness, any awareness? Some of the neurologists say none. On the other hand, you have got some evidence that there might be some awareness. And if you have these doubts, I think you have to opt on the side of life.
ANGLE: One of the difficult things about this has been for the general public, there's been a certain discomfort with this, if you look at the polls. And even though people may say Congress shouldn't have intervened and that sort of thing. There is enormous sympathy with the husband on the one hand, who wants to let her die and the parents on the other hand, who want to keep her alive. The public, all of us, seem to be genuinely conflicted about this case.
KRAUTHAMMER: And that's because there is no good outcome. The tragedy happened when she had her heart attack many years ago and lost most of the function of her cortex, her brain, perhaps all. Again, we're not sure. That's — when that happens, there's not going to be a happy outcome. And because our laws are rather strict and because the laws in Florida automatically assigned surrogacy to the husband, you have got what is essentially a legal process. Which I think, has been honest and played out fairly, but it led to a conclusion that everybody understands is rather a tragic one.
You have got a woman whose parents want to keep her aid live and somehow the train of the law is unstoppable, heading into a death that we're all watching almost star struck and shocked, as she is reaching her demise without anybody being able to stop it.
ANGLE: About 30 seconds left. Some people on both sides have tried to make this a political fight. What do you make of that?
KRAUTHAMMER: I'm sure there are politicians who wanted to exploit this on the left and on the right. But I do believe that for the large majority of people in Congress and also on the streets, this is an issue of deep sincerity. It's a difficult moral issue and people are speaking their heart. I would give them the benefit of the doubt on that issue.
ANGLE: Charles Krauthammer, thank you very much.
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