Will the exploiters of Terri Schiavo admit they went overboard?
Her parents will not give up their battle to restore the feeding tube to their brain-damaged daughter. No one can fault them for holding on to hope in this tragic case and doing everything they can. But the Republicans who pushed through emergency legislation to “save” Schiavo and their allies in the media issued a variety of disingenuous claims. Senate majority leader Bill Frist, a heart doctor, suggested that he could diagnose Schiavo (by examining years-old videos) better than the several neurologists who have studied her in person and have found she is in a persistent vegetative state. Could Frist have reached a sounder conclusion than that of Dr. Jay Wolfson? A doctor and lawyer, Wolfson was appointed Schiavo’s temporary guardian by Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2003. In December of that year, Wolfson, who spent time observing Schiavo, wrote a report for Jeb Bush that noted, “Highly competent, scientifically based physicians using recognized measures and standards have deduced, within a high degree of medical certainty, that Theresa is in a persistent vegetative state. This evidence is compelling.” Still, House majority leader Tom DeLay pronounced that Schiavo could be helped with “medical care and therapy.” (When did this former exterminator attend medical school?) And Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr, the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee, blasted Florida courts for “enforcing a merciless directive,” noting federal courts were obliged to undo this damage.
But two federal courts disagreed, demonstrating that DeLay and Company–including George W. Bush, who rushed back to Washington to sign the legislation that put the Schiavo case into the federal courts–had been off-base. First, federal district Judge James Whittemore turned down an appeal filed by Schiavo’s parents, ruling there was no evidence that Florida state Judge George Greer, who had decided Schiavo’s feeding tube could be withdrawn, had not appropriately and ably followed Florida law. Conservatives howled that Whittemore was appointed by President Bill Clinton. DeLay blasted Whittemore for having violated the “clear intent of Congress.” But DeLay also said he did not expect Congress to take any further steps. That was a rather intriguing response from DeLay. Here’s the scenario in DeLay’s term: Congress passes emergency legislation hoping to save the life of an American citizen, a judge defies Congress, and DeLay says he won’t do anything. Is it cynical to wonder whether the polls that came out after the House passed the Schiavo measure–which show that between 53 and 70 percent of the public oppose Congress’ intervention–have dampened DeLay’s enthusiasm for this crusade? [UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, the House GOP moved to petition the US Supreme Court.]