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  Terri Schiavo's Feeding Tube Removed

By Valerie Schmalz | March 18, 2005 | 11:30 pm EST

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U.S. House and Senate Republicans promised to work through the weekend to find a bill that would pass both houses to save the life of Terri Schiavo. At the same time, a U.S. House committee filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that Schiavo’s feeding tube be re-inserted while it appeals the Florida judge’s decision to ignore its subpoenas.

The 41-year-old Florida woman’s feeding tube was removed at the order of Pinellas Circuit Court Chief George Greer despite the issuing of subpoenas by U.S. Congressional committees on March 18th, about 2 p.m.  

Terri’s husband and legal guardian–who is living with another woman with whom he has two children–appeared on CNN’s "Larry King Live." Michael Schiavo said he was angry that the "government has just trampled over my personal life." 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.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert said in a statement late Friday, "We’re very disappointed by the Florida court’s decision to allow Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube to be removed. The House and Senate leadership are committed to reaching agreement on legislation that provides an opportunity to save Mrs. Schiavo’s life."

In addition, the Associated Press reported the House committee that issued the subpoenas filed an emergency request at the U.S. Supreme Court, asking justices to reinsert Schiavo’s feeding tube while the committee appeals in the lower courts to have its subpoenas recognized.

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.

Both House and Senate are returning to session on Monday, delaying their Easter recess.

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 state House had passed a bill requiring a presumption of nutrition and hydration for someone in a persistent vegetative state unless there had been an advance health care directive or in the case of some other provisions. The Senate version was postponed without a vote because its sponsors did not think it would pass.

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.

A U.S. Senate committee sent the subpoenas in a last-ditch effort to block the removal of Terri's feeding tube. The Congressional subpoenas call all as witnesses and also require that Terri's feeding and hydration not be suspended until they can investigate the case. 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.

In an interview with Reuters after the subpoenas were issued, Michael Schiavo’s attorney and right-to-die advocate George Felos stated: "(House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay and (House Speaker) Dennis Hastert are not members of the Politburo in Stalinist Russia. … The state does not own Mrs. Schiavo's body and Congress cannot simply order her to remain alive contrary to her medical treatment wishes and court order."

The House subpoenas are to appear before the House Government Reform Committee’s "inquiry into the long-term care of incapacitated or non-ambulatory adults. Federal law protects a witness "from anyone who ... influences, obstructs, or impedes an inquiry or investigation by Congress," Senate Majority Leader Frist said. Anyone who violates this law is subject to criminal fines and imprisonment.

Felos said Congress has no power to enter an injunction. "The only subpoena Congress can issue is to appear before a congressional body," he said.

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."

Schiavo collapsed fifteen years ago and was judged by the Florida court—the same court now deciding her fate—to be in a persistent vegetative state. Her parents dispute that finding and have lined up a series of neurologists who support their contention. They have been battling to block her husband from removing Terri's feeding tube for seven years.

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.

A petition for an emergency stay and a petition for Habeas Corpus was also filed in federal court on Terri Schiavo’s behalf. If approved, this would do what the U.S. House legislation would have mandated, require review of her case in a federal court with her own attorney, rather than her husband’s.

Related Links:

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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