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.

House Panel Seeks to Keep Schiavo Alive (AP)

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.

Update (1248): The Senate has gotten involved, having now subpoenaed Michael and Terri Schiavo. Steven Taylor and Tom Traina discuss the absolute idiocy of this.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Health, Law and the Courts, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Drew says:

    If the judiciary had actually weight the facts in this case instead of dismissing them out of hand, the legislature would not be forced to get involved and take up the slack.

  2. Chris Short says:

    Facts are weighed. Husband makes decision. It was that easy until now.

  3. Bithead says:

    Ace of Spades HQ makes mention today on the case of Terri Schiavo, a case i”ve not mentioned here until today.
    There are many reasons I’ve not expressed anything on this case, most of them very personal reasons; It cuts too close to an issue I’ve been wrestling with for years, now. Without saying much about that aspect, let me say that I know from rather anguished personal experince that the death Terri Schiavo is expected to face is not an easy one, by any stretch.
    But understand me; If that were the only issue, here, I’d lean toward the like of Neil Boortz today. But I can’t. And the reason I can’t is simple; and expressed well by Ace:

    Terri Schiavo is not on videotape, as Dr. Kervorkian’s clients were, stating clearly her desire and intent to take her own life. She signed no Living Will specifiying that in certain dire medical circumstances she would prefer to be left to die rather than kept alive.
    She expressed to no one, even verbally, her general preference to die in dire medical circumstances.
    Well– that last point is actually the whole subject of debate in this case.
    Her husband, Michael Schiavo, claims that she did in fact raise the issue at one point and state that in some situations, she’d like him to see to it she had an easy and quick death, rather than being allowed to persist in a bad state.
    One person claims she says this.

    one person only.
    That point, coupled with the idea that there seems some question about her care and her husband’s motives, here, as Ace rightly points out. Ace has an inset quote here that I won’t paste, I’ll simply ask you to go read it.
    Look, the right to die issue will not be solved by this case, regardless how it falls out. This is a case of someone trying to manipulate the ‘right to die’ into what I can only describe as a legal murder, and as such will help neither side of that valid issue.
    The larger issue, here is that of process and protection which Terri Schiavo has clearly not been provided, by those who claim to be representing her better interests.
    However this falls out, the woman is in my prayers, as I hope she is yours. She can use all the help she can get.

  4. Kappiy says:

    I think that Tommy Davis and his House Government Reform Committee is going to call hearings on the Michael Jackson trial to insure that he exploits every sensationalized news story at the moment.

  5. Anderson says:

    Check out Majikthise & her links before deciding that Congress is acting heroically here.

    Terri is neither comatose, nor brain dead. She is in a vegetative state because her higher brain centers have been destroyed and replaced by fluid.

  6. Just Me says:

    I agree with bithead.

    Terry left nothing in writing indicating her wishes, and the only witness to her wishes is the person who stood/stands to gain the most from her death.

    I think in cases where there is no clear indication of wishes that the government should er on the side of life. And for those who think Terri should die, or those who think they would want death, go out and put your wishes in writing, and then the point will pretty much be moot.

  7. Anderson says:

    I think marrying somebody is a pretty big endorsement of their power to act on your behalf, absent other indications. But maybe I’m too into this marriage thing.

  8. Bithead says:


    I’m willing to bet Lacy Anne Peterson thought so, too. You may wanna ask her.

  9. Anderson says:

    See, Bithead thinks going to a court & asking it to adjudicate whether your wife should remain on life support is tantamount to cutting her (& your unborn son) into pieces & tossing them into the bay. I don’t.

  10. JWL says:

    Some people claim that Terri is in a coma. She isn’t, because she is awake.

    Some people claim that Terri is brain dead. Impossible, because she isn’t on any machines. The only “machine” she has is a feeding tube in her abdomen since she can’t eat. She is brain damaged, not brain dead.

    Some people claim that Terri will not be starved to death; she will just be “allowed to die” by being “denied nutrition”. Yep, it’s just like the euphemisms used for abortion. Make no mistake: TERRI IS BEING STARVED TO DEATH.

    Some people claim that this is a family decision to be made between husband and wife. That may be so in a termination of treatment case, but food and water is not medical treatment. This is EUTHANASIA, pure and simple. Terri is being actively killed by being denied basic nutrition.

    Some people claim that Michael Schiavo should have the decision to make, euthanasia or no, because he is Terri’s loving husband. Loving, huh? Would a loving husband have put Terri’s beloved pet cats to sleep after her brain injury? Would a loving husband date other women, become engaged to another woman, and father two children with this other woman, an act of adultery by any standard? Would a loving husband MELT DOWN TERRI’S WEDDING RING to make it into another piece of jewelry? Would a loving husband deny Terri the right to see ANYONE, including her parents, her brother, and even her priest to give her the Eucharist, an extremely important Holy Sacrament to Catholics like Terri? Would a loving husband refuse to allow Terri to have any rehabilitation? Would a loving husband refuse to allow Terri any chance to try eating food, instead opting to starve her to death when it’s possible that she could swallow food if they tried to feed her? Would a loving husband refuse to allow Terri to receive even the most basic of care – the brushing of her teeth – resulting in some of her teeth becoming rotten? NO.

  11. Terri Mago says:

    It is a $5ooo fine to starve a dog in FL..yet this man, Michael and this state have treated her worse than a dog…Michael shiavo misused and abused the system to fill his own selfish pockets…He needs to be counter sued and taken to court for falsly suing for his “beloveds” or in his words,”That Bitch” rehabilitation which he has denied her since the night she was found with bruises on her neck in an state of unconscousness…He never helped her…he is just pissed she lived and hopes she dies before she can point out her attempted murderer….Terri does not like it when Michael is around…she knows something she can’t say…what is he trying to hide? choose life that you may live…the measure of judgement you use will be used against you…watch and see the vengence of god…for vengence is God’s and God will repay…Death may be at their doors….already waiting…She will bring justice even if these men bring down a rule to give her death. Long Live Terri SHiavo…