WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who took a leading role in the Terri Schiavo case, said Sunday it taught him that Americans do not want the government involved in such end-of-life decisions.
Frist, considered a presidential hopeful for 2008, defended his call for further examinations of the brain-damaged Florida woman during the last days of a bitter family feud over her treatment. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state.
The case became a rallying point for right-to-life advocates, an important segment of the Republican Party. It also drew interest from those supporting the right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment and led to charges that the GOP was using a family tragedy for political gain.
Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he had any regrets regarding the Schiavo case, Frist said: "Well, I'll tell you what I learned from it, which is obvious. The American people don't want you involved in these decisions."
Schiavo, 41, died March 31, nearly two weeks after her feeding tube was removed and 15 years after her initial collapse and hospitalization. Courts in Florida had supported her husband's contention that she would not want to live in such a state. Her parents and siblings disagreed and for years fought efforts to remove her feeding tube.
An autopsy later showed that Schiavo had suffered severe, irreversible brain damage and was blind.
Frist, R-Tenn., said in the full Senate that he supported what he called "an opportunity to save Mrs. Schiavo's life." A heart surgeon, Frist had viewed video ordered by a court and taken by a board-certified neurologist who had concluded she was not in a persistent vegetative state.
Congress passed a bill to allow a federal court to review the case, and President Bush quickly returned from his Texas ranch to sign the bill into law. But a federal judge refused to order the tube reinserted, a decision upheld by a federal appeals court and the Supreme Court.
Frist was later mocked as having made a diagnosis from his office using a video screen. "I didn't make the diagnosis," Frist said Sunday. "I raised the question of whether or not she was in a persistent vegetative state."
Looking back, Frist said, "When you're taking innocent life, with parents who want that life preserved, you've got to make sure, and therefore stepping in to say, let's take one more review, that's what we did."
He added: "I accept the outcome. I don't agree with the moral sense of it."
Frist plans to leave the Senate when his second term expires in January 2007. He said Sunday he will return to his home in Tennessee and decide whether to seek the Republican nomination for president.