With woman's feeding tube set for removal, a rush for legislation
By Tamara Lytle and Sean Mussenden
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In this undated photo released by the Schindler family, Terri Schiavo is shown before she suffered catastrophic brain damage. (SCHINDLER FAMILY)
WASHINGTON - Terri Schiavo's feeding tube will be removed today at 1 p.m. unless a House committee succeeds in a last-minute effort to issue subpoenas that would stop doctors from doing so.
An extraordinary legislative maneuver announced early today comes after the House and Senate failed to agree on legislation to keep the woman alive before leaving Washington for their spring break. House officials hope that the subpoenas will stop doctors from removing the badly brain-damaged woman's feeding tube.
"We will issue a subpoena which will require hospice administrators and attending physicians to preserve nutrition and hydration for Terri Schiavo to allow Congress to fully understand the procedures and practices that are currently keeping her alive," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis said in a statement.
Lawmakers in Washington and Florida tried yesterday to approve legislation that would keep the badly brain-damaged woman alive, but emotional debates erupted in both Capitols.
Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, also were trying to obtain a court order that would bar their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, from having his wife's tube removed. Still, Michael Schiavo plans to carry out his plan, his attorney said.
"My client has scrupulously obeyed the court orders in this case, and he is ordered to cause the feeding tube to be removed at 1 p.m., and that is what he is going to do," attorney George Felos said.
"It is not nor has it ever been his mind to change. It is Terri's wishes that form the foundation of this case."
Doctors have said that if the tube is removed, she probably would die within a week or two.
Also yesterday, the Schindlers lost three court decisions, with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Florida Supreme Court and Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer turning down requests to keep the life-sustaining tube in place.
In the rapid succession usually reserved for condemned inmates, both Supreme Court appeals were filed and rejected in less than a day.
In Washington, the Senate passed a different version of the legislation than the House had approved late Wednesday, just as both were poised to leave town for the Easter recess. Less than an hour after the Senate vote, the House adjourned.
In Florida, the House approved a Schiavo bill but could not get the Senate to agree.
President Bush, meanwhile, signaled his willingness to sign a bill to stop Schiavo from dying.
"The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues," the president said. "Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."
The legislation in Congress would send Schiavo's case to a federal judge to hear evidence of whether her constitutional rights have been protected. That hearing and its appeals could take weeks or months, delaying a resolution to a case that has dragged through state courts for years.
The House bill applies to all people like Schiavo who are incapacitated, have left no written instructions about such medical care and are in the middle of a family dispute. The Senate version, a so-called private relief bill, applies only to Schiavo.
Florida courts have ruled that Terri Schiavo, who collapsed after her heart stopped 15 years ago, is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Although she left no written wishes, her husband has said she told him that she would not want to be kept alive artificially.
Her parents however, argue that she is not in a persistent vegetative state and should receive rehabilitation.
"There's a person's life hanging in the balance," said Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican. "Any time a mom wants to take a daughter home and love her and feed her, she ought to be able to do that."
The federal legislation took one turn after another yesterday. Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, tried two approaches to the bill in the early afternoon. But moving legislation through Congress in hours instead of months requires unanimous consent, and Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, objected.
Several hours later, Wyden relented after the legislation was changed to make it clear that it was not setting a precedent for other cases. Just after 5:30 p.m., the Senate approved the bill.
"The Senate is now addressing probably the most gut-wrenching decision that an American family can ever face," Wyden said.
"Without even a single hearing, without any debate whatever, the Senate is tackling an extraordinarily sensitive concern that involves morals and ethics and religious principles, and this troubles me greatly."
Wyden would not agree to a vote on the House version of the bill.
The measure could pass and be signed by the president today if senators give way and pass the House version, or if House leaders agree to pass the Senate bill.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.