The Debate Over Terri Schiavo

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Mar. 18, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, what may be the final chapter in the right-to-die dispute over Terri Schiavo (search). Despite last-minute congressional intervention, a judge in Florida okayed the removal of the feeding tube keeping Terri alive. She's been in a vegetative state for 15 years. This afternoon, that very feeding tube was, in fact, removed.

Joining us now from New York is Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine (search). And from Orlando, Florida, Congressman Dave Weldon, a Republican who practiced medicine before going to the Hill.

Let's start with you, Dr. Weldon. Why do you feel as though there was still hope for her?

REP. DAVE WELDON, (R-FLORIDA): Well, I'm not sure there really is. I haven't examined her. What I was trying to accomplish was a federal review of the fact in this case.

If you look at the video, it appears she is not in a vegetative state. I spoke to one of the neurologists who examined her two years ago who said categorically she wasn't. The mother, the father, the brother and the sister are all telling me she responds to them verbally. She's not in a vegetative state.

So I was trying to get a federal review — the federal bench on the facts of this case, not unlike what is going to happen to Scott Peterson (search) and the way we treat a lot of death row inmates in this country. You work the cases through the state courts and then the federal — they are allowed a federal review to make sure their constitutional rights are protected.

KASICH: Now Dr. Morrison, you have a different — you have a definite view about her status. Tell us about it. Why do you think this was the right decision today?

DR. SEAN MORRISON, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I don't have a definite be opinion about her status. And I think it's important to realize that this is not the situation about hope.

In the United States, we are granted the power to make decisions about our bodies. We can say what goes into them, we can say what goes out of them. And the Supreme Court has ruled we don't lose that ability, even if we can't make decisions.

In this case, the courts have decided that enough evidence exists that Terri Schiavo would not have wanted this type of medical intervention in her body, and that as an American she has the right to have that removed. And that's what the courts have ruled.

Now certainly, I am not taking care of her. I haven't examined her. But it appears clear to me that reading through the court's decisions, that this is a medical intervention that this particular patient would not have wanted if she were in this situation. That may not apply to somebody else. It may not apply to you. It may not apply to me. But for this particular patient, it applies to her.

KASICH: Dr. Morrison, you being in gerontology, obviously you look at decisions like this all the time. What happens when families disagree? I suppose most times families can agree. But when families have this kind of a serious disagreement, what do you do?

MORRISON: Well, I sit down with them and I talk about it. And I think the thing that is very helpful for families is to recognize that this is what the patient would have wanted, not what they would have wanted. So we sit down and we talk about what is the patient's values and goals? Has he or she ever made a statement about what would be a fate worse than death? And I try to understand who this particular patient and who this person is.

Then we talk about do the treatments that this person is receiving meet the goals that you have just articulated to me? If the treatments are meeting those goals, we continue them. If there are other treatments that meet those goals that he or she is not receiving, we add them.

KASICH: Well, this is, of course, a case that's in dispute as to what she really wanted with no living will (search).

Dr. Weldon, with no living will, with the husband saying one thing and the parents saying, look, you go your own way. You can go carry on with your life. But we want to take care of our daughter. The mother, the father, the brother, the sister, in that kind of a case, show should we come down on this? In my judgment, if they want to take care of her, I can't understand why the husband doesn't say, all right. If that's what you feel, go ahead and do it. Because there is no living will.

WELDON: Well, you're exactly right. The big question is, why didn't he just divorce her? He has a common law wife (search), two children by that common law wife. And he's going to inherit the balance of her medical malpractice settlement, which was intended for her care. And as soon as he got that money, he discontinued her therapy. And up until that point, she was walking a little bit and she was talking a little bit.

And in my clinical experience — and I took care of a number of cases like this — when the original injury occurs, the family comes forward and you will be working on them and they will say, no, no, she didn't — she said she did not want life-sustaining measures if she ended up like this.

In this particular case, there was a seven-year pause, at least based on my understanding of the facts, between her injury and when the husband came forward and said, oh, she said seven years ago that she didn't want this sort of thing being done. And to me, that is not credible.

And one of the early guardians on this case reported that he thought that the husband's testimony to this effect was not credible.

Now that guardian's testimony was ultimately thrown out by the court over the objection to the family. And to me, if you just look at all of the facts in this case, it just screams out for further analysis and review.

And to think that — to think we give Scott Peterson more rights for review in front of the courts than we are going to give this poor young lady to me is just — it is an a abomination.

KASICH: Dave, what's compelling to me is if the mother, the father, the brother and the sister say we want to take care of our daughter, our sister, than it seems to me as though that's where it ought to come down. That's my view on it without a living will.

But Dr. Morrison, what will it be like for her now? I know she is in this state. But will she have pain? What will the condition be? How long will it take her before she dies?

MORRISON: She will not have pain. She will not suffer. She will not experience discomfort that cannot be treated with aggressive medical management.

What typically happens when people with artificial nutrition and hydration is removed, is that patients gradually drift off into a peaceful coma. And the only discomfort that they may experience is some dry mouth and dry lips, which are easily treated with artificial saliva and lubricants.

In response to the question that you asked before, however, why can't her parents just take her home, the issue is that we may want to do something for somebody but the courts — and it has been reviewed in this case — that the courts believe that they are acting on what she would have wanted.

That may be different than her parents. That may be different than her brother. And I would say as an American that I would want my rights respected, even if it conflicted with those of my family's.

KASICH: That's a good point, doctor.

Dave Weldon, you get the last comment. Is this over now? Will anything else be happening?

WELDON: I'm not sure it's over. The feeding tube has been withdrawn once or twice in the past, ultimately to be reinserted. And the House and Senate are aggressively working to try to go to court to get that feeding tube reinserted.

And I believe Judge Greer is acting in contempt of Congress right now.

KASICH: Well, look, I want to thank the both of you doctors for taking the time to be with us tonight and giving us your insight. Thank you very much.

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