Bush Returning to Washington Over Schiavo

President Bush is flying halfway across the country to sign an emergency bill intervening in a matter that affects a single individual and that has been ongoing since his father was president. Meanwhile, patients in Texas in much better shape than Schiavo are being removed from life support against the wishes of the family under a law Bush signed as governor and supported and partly written by a pro-life group fighting to keep Schiavo alive.

Bush Returning to Washington Over Schiavo (ABC)

President Bush is changing his schedule to return to the White House on Sunday to be in place to sign emergency legislation that would shift the case of a brain-damaged Florida woman to federal courts, the White House said Saturday. “Everyone recognizes that time is important here,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “This is about defending life.” After Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed on Friday, members of Congress worked out a deal to pass legislation to allow federal courts to decide the 41-year-old woman’s fate and in the hopes of supporters of the woman’s parents restore the tube that was keeping her alive. The House and Senate hoped to act on the legislation Sunday, so Bush decided he needed to be in Washington so he could immediately sign the bill, McClellan said. “The president intends to sign legislation as quickly as possible once it is passed,” McClellan said.

So, now, we’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to subvert the legal process and the wishes of both Michael and Terri Schiavo in this matter?

Meanwhile, as Duncan Black and Mark Kleiman point out, the state that he’s leaving, Texas, routinely allows hospitals to pull the plug despite the will of the patient once money runs out:

Hospitals can end life support (Houston Chronicle, March 8th)

A patient’s inability to pay for medical care combined with a prognosis that renders further care futile are two reasons a hospital might suggest cutting off life support, the chief medical officer at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital said Monday. […] If there is agreement on the part of all the physicians that the patient does have an irreversible, terminal illness,” he said, “we’re not going to drag this on forever … “When the hospital is really correct and the care is futile … you’re not going to find many hospitals or long-term acute care facilities (that) want to take that case,” he said. “Any facility that’s going to be receiving a patient in that condition … is going to want to be paid for it, of course.”

[…]

State law allows doctors to remove patients from life support if the hospital’s ethics committee agrees, but it requires that the hospital give families 10 days to find another facility.

Kleiman discusses the contrasts between the Sciavo case and that of Spiro Nikolouzos, a Texas patient profiled in the Chronicle piece, at some length. I must agree that I find the latter much more problematic. Perhaps Congress should involve itself in this, a much larger public policy problem, rather than involving itself in a single case that’s already been adjudicated.

HealthLawProf Blog has a whole series of posts on these issues written by law professors specializing in health care issues.

Update (0818): Michael Demmons sees a lot of inconsistencies in how conservatives are acting here vice their statements on other issues. I can’t disagree. I do take exception with this, however: “…that’s what’s important here – an election issue.”

One can’t take the politics out of politics and I’m sure that Members voting for the Schiavo legislation are cognizant that it will galvanize Christian conservatives. I don’t, however, think that Frist, Hastert, and company are primarily motivated by electoral politics here. A large number of conservatives are deeply moved by the Schiavo case and believe a great injustice is being done and Congress is taking desperate measures to intervene. The fact that they are doing so in a high profile case isn’t really surprising; cases that aren’t high profile tend not to get the attention of Congress. We can criticize the actions of politicians on the merits, as I have repeatedly on this issue, without questioning their motives.

Joe Gandleman sees another hypocrisy here:

I thought the President and GOPers didn’t like activist judges and were for smaller government. It seems here they’re moving this case to ensure activist judges handle it and are taking powers away from state courts and handing it over to the federal government.

I agree that this is a state issue rather than a federal one, although I don’t see any strong reason we can’t federalize patients’ rights issues given the longstanding fact that we regulate drugs and other medical issue at the federal level.

The judicial activism charge, though, puzzles me. Having judges adjudicate individual cases by applying the law isn’t judicial activism, it’s the raison detre of the courts. Judicial activism is when judges legislate from the bench, either by creating new constitutional rights or ignoring the Constitution to substitute their own will. If a court were to overturn the Texas law above, for example, on the grounds that the 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches, as extended to the states via the 14th Amendment, created an implied right not to die, that would be judicial activism. For a judge simply to weigh the facts of the case and compare them to a law is judging.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    I might not be activism per se, but it is subverting an issues that are state’s right issues not a federal ones. The administration has proven time and time again that they really are not interested in preserving states rights unless it they want to use it to advance there own agenda as opposed to holding up any kind of principal.

  2. anon says:

    I am not cognizant of the laws you site above, but a lot of people do distinguish the difference between “pulling the plug” (i.e. people who would die immediately when taken off life support when machines are supporting all their base functions) and “pulling the tube” (someone who has to die by being slowly starved to death, which includes all comotose patients).

    Plus in this case we have parents who are willing to take care of person, and a husband who has all sorts of incentives to knock her off, so I don’t think this is so cut and dry as you claim.

    The last thing is that parents claim that she reacts. You can say – and I’ll accept – they are biased, but when someone is going to be slowly starved to death, I think we should be just a little more careful when dismissing these things outright.

  3. “the difference between “pulling the plug” (i.e. people who would die immediately when taken off life support when machines are supporting all their base functions) and “pulling the tube” (someone who has to die by being slowly starved to death, which includes all comotose patients).”

    It goes further than that. BlogsforTerri.org points out that the feeding tube is not necessary–but a convenience. Nurses have sworn affidavits that Terri can eat on her own.

    Joyner’s diatribe in favor of killing this woman is the most shocking departure from decency I’ve ever witnessed in a blogger I truly respect. It’s disappointing.

  4. Jeff Baker says:

    I have rarely seen as much credulous naivete as I have often read on the pages of this blog. You seem to be seriously trying to paint this as an issue with two sides, when really there is only one side. The husband is fulfilling his wife’s wishes, and the avenues of intervention available to everyone else (the parents, the “pro-life” morons, Jeb Bush) have been fully exhausted at every level of the Florida judiciary. The Congress, in its infinitessimal wisdom, has passed a new law stripping the husband of the relief which the courts have already granted him, and is instructing the federal judiciary to re-hear the case de novo, without consideration of the husband’s rights under the law.

    Do YOU want the Congress passing laws that specifically strip YOU of YOUR rights under the law? Probably not, that’s why it’s against the Constitution.

  5. Jeff Baker says:

    As for “anon” and “Bill Hennessy”: wow, are you really this ignorant or is it an act? Anon: it makes NO difference what the parents want, because the husband has a legal duty and right to execute the wishes of the wife. Numerous people have testified under oath that Terri Schiavo did not want artificial life support. The Republicans want to protect the “sanctity of marriage” don’t they? Well here’s their big chance to uphold the legal meaning of marriage, and they are stomping all over it.

    “Bill”: If the feeding tube isn’t necessary, then who cares if they pull it? They’ll pull the tube and Terri will sit bolt upright and order a turkey club. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. The woman is brain dead and has been that way for 15 years. She’s not coming back. The only definition of “alive” which she fulfills is that various electrical stimuli cause various muscular contractions in her corpse. What if she is still in this state 400 years from now? What if her body is in perfect equilibrium with the electrolyte solution they are using to feed her? Will you still say she is “alive” in 2405? Should this feeding technique be applied mandatorily to any patient who could remain in this undead state indefinitely?

  6. Boyd says:

    “…because the husband has a legal duty and right to execute the wishes of the wife.”

    Sorry, but I had to point out the irony in that statement.

    And I continue to have problems with the judgment that these are Mrs. Schiavo’s expressed wishes. Then again, there are many things judges do which make no sense to me.

  7. Shana Barrow says:

    Joyner’s diatribe in favor of killing this woman is the most shocking departure from decency I’ve ever witnessed in a blogger I truly respect. It’s disappointing.

    Pet Peeve #2653: When lower-tier bloggers blog about how disappointed they are that higher-tier bloggers take stances that are different from the lower-tier bloggers’ opinions. Talk about tactlessness and acting asinine. Effing get over it already.

  8. Jeff Baker says:

    Boyd, the phrase “nation of laws, not men” means that nobody gives a flying handshake when random Internet fuckwits “have problems with the judgement.” Numerous members of numerous branches of our judicial system have made a finding of fact that Terri Schiavo was disinclined to have her life artificially extended. The case has presented what is regarded to be the highest quality and largest quantity of evidence ever brought to bear in such a case. That you “have a problem” is the most irrelevant fact in the universe.

    “Nation of laws” is something forgotten by today’s right wing.

    PS Terri Schiavo’s brain has literally liquified over the last 15 years. Those of you who believe she can swallow and smile at her mom are believing in lies. She cannot swallow, she does not recognize anything, and she makes no voluntary movements.

  9. bryan says:

    PS Terri Schiavo’s brain has literally liquified over the last 15 years. Those of you who believe she can swallow and smile at her mom are believing in lies. She cannot swallow, she does not recognize anything, and she makes no voluntary movements.

    Wow, James. I’m impressed that you have someone who actually visits Terri regularly and performs medical exams upon her as a commenter on your blog. [/sarcasm]

    Given that Michael Schiavo has refused to allow any rehab work to be performed on her for the last 515 years, that may be close to true. But Jeff, you hardly sound like a dispassionate medical observer.

  10. Boyd says:

    Thanks for classifying me as a “random Internet fuckwit” for expressing my opinion. Your support for the First Amendment is phenomenal.

    And while you’re at it, exactly one court, more precisely, one man has made a finding of fact regarding whether or not Terri Schiavo would wish to remain alive in her current state.

    You seem to have a penchant for making up facts which support your position, Jeff. You know, what we Texans call “lying.”

    So who’s more irrelevant, Jeff? Someone who expresses discomfort with what’s going on in the Schiavo case, or someone who lies in order to promote his position that she should be dehydrated to death?