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  Republicans, Family Fight for Terri's Life; Supreme Court Denies Committee's Request

By Valerie Schmalz | March 19, 2005 | Updated 8:15 EST

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The U.S. House and Senate will come into a special session on Sunday with the intent of passing a bill designed to force Terri Schiavo’s case into federal district court and require the re-insertion of her feeding tube.

The compromise bill is written to only affect the case of the 41-year-old brain damaged Florida woman. President George W. Bush said he would sign the bill immediately, Republican leaders said.

"The United States Congress has been working on non stop for the past three days to do its part to uphold human dignity and affirm the Culture of Life," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said during a brief special Senate session Saturday.

The session was necessary to adjourn, a housekeeping measure required to allow both houses of Congress to convene Sunday. The House will convene at 1 p.m. and the Senate at 2 p.m. If that fails, the bill would be placed on the House suspension agenda at 12:01 a.m. Monday and be put up for voice vote at 8 a.m. on Monday.

"It has been more than 24 hours since Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed but the legislation we will consider will give her another chance," Frist said. "It allows Terri’s case to be heard in federal court."

Questioned about the constitutionality of Congressional intervention, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said at a press conference Saturday, "Because the United States Constitution protects the life of human beings from being taken by other human beings needlessly."

Frist and DeLay announced they believe they have reached a compromise on legislation that will only affect Terri Schiavo rather than the broader legislation originally passed by the House. That bill would have affected the law on nutrition and hydration of all people judged to be in a persistent vegetative state.

Appearing on CNN’s "Larry King Live"  Friday night, Michael Schiavo said he was angry that the "government has just trampled over my personal life."

Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed at about 2 p.m. Friday, March 18, at the order of Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer. Greer has decided the facts of the case for the past 11 years, including a medical opinion presented by a right-to-die doctor selected by Terri’s husband Michael Schiavo.  Moving the case to a federal district court allows more facts to be considered by a different judge in a different venue.

Her family has fought for seven years to stop the starvation and dehydration death her husband Michael seeks. Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago and the loss of oxygen caused serious brain damage.

Greer has refused to consider any other medical opinions presented by the Schindlers or to authorize further tests, and has rejected most claims by Terri’s parents Bob and Mary Schindler, including their request for guardianship. Michael Schiavo halted all therapy in 1993 after winning a more than $1 million malpractice damage award, and lives with another woman with whom he has two children.

Greer has also denied the Schinders’ request to have their daughter’s body for burial rather than immediate cremation as her legal guardian Michael Schiavo has ordered.

"I think his abusive neglect of his position as a guardian is outrageous," DeLay said of Michael Schiavo today. "And partnered with this judge that has allowed him to treat Terri like this for the last 11 years is outrageous and my question is, what kind of man is he?"

In a sign the bill’s passage is not a slam dunk, even though Minnesota Democratic Rep. James Oberstar also appeared at the press conference Saturday, DeLay said, "The Democratic leadership in the House has been very cooperative.  There are some members that have grave concerns about what we are doing and we are trying to work it out."

"Most people need to understand. She will not die of starvation. She will die of dehydration," a somber DeLay said, probably of an infection brought on by the deydration.

Asked by a reporter if this bill was unwarranted interference in the matters of the state and the state courts as Terri’s husband Michael Schiavo and others claim, De Lay said:

 "I don’t have a whole lot of respect for a man that has treated this woman in this way. He has refused to allow her to have therapy. He has refused to allow her to have a MRI. For years, for five years, she’s been kept in a hospice and every time they have asked just to take her outside, which they can do, he has refused. She’s not been outside for I think the last three years."

Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, on Saturday said he believes bloggers may be the family’s best hope of saving Terri, and called on them to continue putting the pressure on legislators in Tallahasee, Fl. and Washington, D.C.

 The Associated Press reported that Michael Schiavo was at his wife’s side shortly after the tube was removed.  Terri Schiavo’s parents were escorted from her room before the tube was removed, BlogsforTerri.com reported.

On Saturday, Bobby Schindler Jr. told BlogsforTerri.com to "please have the blogs keep up the pressure all weekend, my sister’s life depends on them getting the word out for people to keep calling their senators and representatives!"

The blog, which has been a consistent source of information from those close to the family, reported Saturday. "The family feels that the blogs are perhaps Terri’s best chance of getting the volume of calls needed to convince the right people to make the right decision."

The Protection of Incapacitated Persons Act of 2005 was passed late Wednesday night by the House of Representatives but ran into problems in the Senate. The final bill passed by the Senate said "may" instead of  "shall" move the case to federal court when all legal remedies are exhausted at the state level, Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said on the Sean Hannity radio show. Sensenbrennder said that left room for a federal judge not to hear the case and that was why the House did not pass the Senate legislation.

Meanwhile, the Florida Catholic Conference sent out a newsletter late Friday, March 18th, asking all to call and write the Florida Senate and House urging it to approve one or both of two pieces of legislation stalled in the state legislature.

The order to remove the tube came despite a last minute reprieve offered by the chief judge in the circuit court who delayed the removal while Greer considered the case. Congress Friday ordered that subpoenas be served on Terri Schiavo, her husband Michael, the hospice administrator and two doctors. They are ordered to appear at hearings on March 25 and March 28. The legislation to be considered Sunday is unrelated to the subpoenas.

A U.S. Senate committee sent the subpoenas in a last-ditch effort to block the removal of Terri's feeding tube. Because Terri is named as a witness, Republican leaders believed she would be protected by federal law protecting witnesses, but Greer ruled that the protection did not apply. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request for an emergency stay while the lower courts considered the subpoenas late Friday.

In a statement issued by the White House, President George W. Bush said, "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."

This is the third time Terri Schiavo’s tube has been removed. It was removed twice before in 2001, and again in 2003 when emergency legislation known as Terri’s Law was approved by the Florida legislature and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. Terri’s Law was later overturned by the courts.

Related Links:

Terri's Murder Begins | By Valerie Schmalz. March 18, 2005.
Congress Delays Murder of Terri Schiavo | By Valerie Schmalz. March 18, 2005.
Vatican, Gibson Join Fight for Terri's Life | Valerie Schmalz. March 15, 2005.
The Vatican Steps In: Cardinal Martino's Statement on Terri Schiavo | Valerie Schmalz. March 8, 2005.
• John Paul II on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas"
The Case of Terri Schiavo: When Does Dignity End? | By Fr. Michael Black
The Battle Over Terri | Valerie Schmalz
DCF's Schiavo Petition Unsealed | The Tampa Tribune (Friday, March 4, 2005)
Terri's Brother Fights For Sister's Life | by Margaret Zagroba | Vice President, Princeton Pro-Life. Saturday, March 5, 2005.

Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.

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