HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, March 18, 2005

Schiavo: Congress Gets Serious

Senate Republicans have invited Terri Schiavo and her husband to testify on March 28.  According to Bloomberg News, "Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Mike Enzi sent a letter to Schiavo and husband Michael, her legal guardian, asking them to appear at a March 28 hearing to 'review health-care policies and practices.'"  The purpose appears to be to put the physicians and hospital administrators at legal risk if they remove Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, which Florida trial judge George Greer again authorized today (see AP story, 3:29 p.m. today).  As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist put it on his website today: "Federal criminal law protects witnesses called before official Congressional committee proceedings from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness’ attendance or testimony.  More specifically, the law protects a witness from anyone who -- by threats, force, or by any threatening letter or communication --influences, obstructs, or impedes an inquiry or investigation by Congress. Anyone who violates this law is subject to criminal fines and imprisonment."

In a similar move, on the House side Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader DeLay, and Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis today issued this joint statement:

The Committee on Government Reform has initiated an inquiry into the long term care of incapacitated adults, an issue of growing importance to the federal government and federal healthcare policy. The committee’s inquiry arises out of the case of Terri Schiavo, who is currently being kept alive in a hospice in Florida. Later this morning, 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. The subpoena will be joined by a Senate investigation as well.

This inquiry should give hope to Terri, her parents and friends, and the millions of people throughout the world who are praying for her safety. This fight is not over.

If there's any doubt that Terri Shiavo has become a political football, Peggy Noonan's "OpinionJournal" piece for the on-line Wall Street Journal should dispel it.  Here's just a small portion of what Ms. Noonan heaps up:

In America today all big stories have three dimensions: a legal angle, a public-relations angle and a political angle. In the Schiavo case some of our politicians seem not to be fully appreciating the second and third. This is odd.

Here's both a political and a public-relations reality: The Republican Party controls the Senate, the House and the White House. The Republicans are in charge. They have the power. If they can't save this woman's life, they will face a reckoning from a sizable portion of their own base. And they will of course deserve it.

This should concentrate their minds.

So should this: America is watching. As the deadline for removal of Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube approaches, the story has broken through as never before in the media.

I wonder what Terri Schiavo would say about that.  [tm]

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