Congress Jumps into Schiavo Case
The House Government Reform Committee, which seems determined to do everything but reform the government, is trying to insert itself in the Terri Schiavo case.
Working against the clock, House lawmakers tried to prevent doctors in Florida from removing the feeding tube Friday from a severely brain-damaged woman. In a two-pronged approach, a House committee was issuing congressional subpoenas to stop doctors from disconnecting the tube, while an attorney for the parents of the woman, Terri Schiavo, said he would ask a federal judge in Tampa to block the removal and review the actions of state courts. Such habeas corpus appeals seek to require the government to justify its actions. “We are going to ask him to issue a stay because in this case, state action would be used to end the life of an innocent, disabled woman,” the attorney, David Gibbs said.
In a last-ditch attempt to stop the court-ordered removal, a House committee on Capitol Hill here decided early Friday morning to start an investigation into Schiavo’s case and issue subpoenas ordering doctors and hospice administrators not to remove her feeding tubes and to keep her alive until that investigation was complete.
The effort by the House Government Reform Committee came after lawmakers in both Washington and Tallahassee failed in attempts to pass legislation to keep her husband, Michael Schiavo, from having the tube pulled despite heavy lobbying by Schiavo’s parents. “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,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Government Reform chairman Tom Davis said in a joint statement. “This fight is not over.”
The Government Reform Committee is the same committee that forced Major League Baseball players and officials to testify Thursday about steroid use.
It was not immediately known when the subpoenas would be delivered to Schiavo’s hospice and doctors, or whether the Florida health care providers would recognize them. A possible penalty for not recognizing the subpoena is to be held in contempt of Congress, a GOP leadership aide said.
The Schiavo case is complicated and heart wrenching. It is not, however, the province of the legislature, let alone the Federal legislature, to decide individual cases. Lawmakers rightly decry judges overstepping their authority by striking down legislation perfectly within the constitutional power of the legislature. In cases like this, though, the legislature is trying to usurp the legitimate role of the judiciary to weigh the facts and apply the law in complicated cases. Legislatures should set public policy; judges should apply the law to specific cases.
Update (1005): The Washington Post editorial board agrees. My resolve remains unshaken, however.