Thursday, March 24, 2005


Federal judges
right in rejecting
Schiavo appeal


The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal by Terri Schiavo's parents seeking restoration of her feeding tube.

FEDERAL judges have upheld the integrity of the judiciary by rejecting a congressional attempt to subvert the role of states in settling disputes about end-of-life decisions. The plight of a severely brain-damaged Florida woman prompted the improper intrusion by Congress into such a dispute.

After Terri Schiavo's parents exhausted state legal avenues to prolong her life and a state judge ordered a feeding tube to be removed, Congress enacted and President Bush signed into law an order giving "any parent of Theresa Marie Schiavo" standing to go to federal court and ask that intravenous feeding resume. Congress has no business venturing into such affairs and should not do so again.

Congress often passes legislation called "private bills," naming people and companies. Those bills typically provide benefits in such areas as immigration or donation of federal land. Never before had Congress used a private bill to a reopen a case that had been fully adjudicated at the state level.

The Schiavo case has received much attention because virtually every family has dealt or will deal with such wrenching, life-ending decisions. Governor Lingle told the Star-Bulletin's editorial board, "My feeling watching this has been as a human being, not as a governor, and I think it is very sad."

Lingle said her mother, who has a bipolar disorder that was diagnosed more than 40 years ago, has a feeding tube while living in a nursing home. "She is still alert, in my opinion, when I go there and I talk to her," she said. "She knows it is me, and I am not going to be the one to say" that the feeding tube should be removed.

That is drastically different from the case of Schiavo, who doctors and courts have concluded is in a "persistent vegetative state," a harsh misnomer for a condition in which the patient is awake but not aware. Such a condition differs from a coma, in which the patient is neither awake nor aware, or brain death, where there is no sign at all that the brain is functioning. But it is far different from mental illness or Alzheimer's Disease, where levels of awareness are maintained.

Politicians became involved because of pressure from the far-right wing of the Republican Party. The cultural and ideological lines are the same on the issues of abortion, stem-cell research and physician-assisted suicide.

Those arguing that feeding of Schiavo resume also maintain that allowing her to starve is cruel and inhumane. However horrible starvation might seem, a 2003 survey of Oregon hospice nurses found that most of the deaths that followed patients' request for the removal of feeding tubes "were peaceful, with little suffering." Experts say a patient experiences hunger for two or three days, but the body then gets energy from fat, relieving hunger and even causing a feeling of euphoria.

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