Lawmakers React to Schiavo

Congressional and state lawmakers offered their condolences Thursday to the family of Terri Schiavo (search) and said the severely brain-damaged woman's death left many emotional issues to be dealt with.

"Today, millions of Americans are saddened by the death of Terri Schiavo," President Bush said just before commenting on a weapons of mass destruction report issued by a blue-ribbon commission on Thursday.

Saying Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), displayed "grace and dignity" throughout the long, emotional ordeal, Bush urged those grieving to "continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those that live at the mercy of others."

He added: "The strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions; the presumption should be in favor of life."

Bush returned from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the weekend that Schiavo's feeding tube was removed to sign into law an extraordinary measure passed by Congress allowing the Schiavo case to be reviewed by federal courts. The Schindlers tried many legal routes in an effort to get their daughter's feeding tube reinserted but were continually denied that request.

"After an extraordinarily difficult and tragic journey, Terri Schiavo is at rest," Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (search) said in a statement.

"Many across our state and around the world are deeply grieved by the way Terri died. I feel that grief very sharply as well. I remain convinced, however, that Terri's death is a window through which we can see the many issues left unresolved in our families and in our society. For that, we can be thankful for all that the life of Terri Schiavo has taught us."

Some of those unresolved issues Gov. Bush referred to are death and dying, the role of the judiciary, living wills and guardianship. Congress and state legislatures around the country likely will take a harder look at these issues, as well as those involving people with disabilities, in the next few years.

Gov. Bush had urged the Florida courts to take another look at the case and even submitted further evidence by doctors that suggested Schiavo was not in a persistent vegetative state, as court-appointed doctors had diagnosed. Bush also worked to get her feeding tube reinserted in recent years after courts had ordered it to be removed, as Schiavo's husband said she wanted.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, has been front and center in the Schiavo case when it comes to just how Congress would intervene in the matter.

"Mrs. Schiavo's death is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy. This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change," DeLay said in a statement. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri Schiavo's friends in this time of deep sorrow. "

Sen. Rick Santorum (search), R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said he was "deeply saddened" to hear about Schiavo's passing after all efforts to reinsert the feeding tube that had kept her alive for 15 years had failed. Santorum was one of several lawmakers who had filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Schiavo's parents when asking the high court to review their case. Those lawmakers also led the charge in Congress to pass the legislation allowing the case to be heard at the federal level.

"Terri Schiavo, a daughter, a sister and most importantly an innocent person, was penalized by a court system that grants convicted murderers fair treatment under the law, but not a woman whose only crime was not filing a living will," Santorum said in a statement. He said the actions by state and federal courts not to order the tube reinserted were "unconscionable."

"In California, Scott Peterson (search), a convicted murderer, was sentenced to death, yet his constitutional rights were upheld to ensure that he received due process and fair consideration in court," the Pennsylvania Republican said. "Terri Schiavo was given a death sentence, and passed away without the right to due process."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., said: "Today I join with all those mourning Terri Schiavo's passing. I am deeply saddened by her loss. I pray for her mother and father, her family, and all those involved in this regrettable loss of life. May God bless her memory."

But Sen. Edwards Kennedy blasted Republicans for pointing the finger of blame.

"Mr. DeLay's comments today were irresponsible and reprehensible," said the Massachusetts Democrat. "This case has been heartbreaking and tragic enough. It is time for mourning and healing not for more inflammatory rhetoric, and responsible national leaders should understand that and stop this exploitation."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (search) said one lesson learned from the Schiavo case is the importance of talking about death and dying issues with family and drafting a living will.

"This situation should not lead us to choose sides, but rather it highlights the importance of clear communication so that loved ones may understand the wishes of their family members should a similar situation arise," the California Democrat sad in a statement. The absence of clarity can all too often lead to irreparable breaches within the family. I also believe very strongly that the federal government should not be imposing its will in situations better left to individuals, families and the states."

Rep. Dave Weldon (search), R-Fla., a physician who sponsored the measure allowing the case to be heard at the federal level, said: "I was saddened to learn that during Terri's last moments she was not surrounded by those family members who loved her most. This is a distressing chapter in American history that should make us reexamine what we mean by declaring ourselves a compassionate nation when those with special needs are treated this way."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search), R-Wis., called on Congress to pass legislation to prevent others from going through the same legal battles.

"Terri's will to live should serve as an inspiration and impetus for action," Sensenbrenner said. "I am hopeful the Senate will join the House in passing the Protection of Incapacitated Persons Act to assist those whose circumstances mirror Terri Schiavo's and ensure others with disabilities do not receive the same treatment by our legal system."

The White House didn't rule out support from the president for new legislation. "Obviously we would look at it if it came to our desk," said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.