Schiavo was the 41-year-old Florida woman who received a persistent vegetative state diagnosis and died in 2005 when food and water were withheld from her at the request of her husband, Michael, and over the opposition of her parents after a lengthy legal battle. The case received national attention, and she died nearly two weeks after the tube was removed.
Her parents and their supporters said her husband had a conflict of interest because he was involved with another woman. There was no living will, and the two sides disagreed over whether Terri had made a verbal request when healthy. Although the Florida court-appointed doctor said she was in a persistent vegetative state, some doctors said she was not. Her parents urged Michael to allow them to take care of her.
Congress got involved by passing a bill allowing Terri Schiavo's parents to appeal her case to the federal courts, but they lost there, too. That bill, signed by President Bush, passed three days after the feeding tube was removed. Congress' goal was to have a judge order the tube re-inserted and to review all the facts of the case.
Then-Sen. Rick Santorum, now a GOP presidential candidate, helped lead the charge in the Senate to pass the bill. Her parents lived in Pennsylvania and were constituents.
"They came to me and made a very strong case that they would like to see some other pair of eyes -- judicial eyes -- look at it," Santorum said. "And I agreed to advocate for those constituents because I believe that we should give respect and dignity for all human life, irrespective of their condition. ... I wanted to make sure that the judicial proceedings worked properly. And that's what I did, and I would do it again."
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also said Congress did the right thing. He noted that criminals on death row have multiple appeals.
"And you have here somebody who was in a coma, who had, on the one hand, her husband saying let her die and her parents saying let her live," Gingrich said. "It strikes me that having a bias in favor of life, and at least going to a federal hearing -- which would be automatic if it was a criminal on death row -- that it's not too much to say in some circumstances your rights as an American citizen ought to be respected. And there ought to be at least a judicial review of whether or not in that circumstance you should be allowed to die, which has nothing to do with whether or not you as a citizen have a right to have your own end-of-life prescription, which is totally appropriate for you to do, as a matter of your values in consultation with your doctor."
Rep. Ron Paul, also a doctor, said the situation was unique.
"I find it so unfortunate, so unusual, too. That situation doesn't come up very often," Paul said. "It should teach us all a lesson to have living wills or a good conversation with a spouse. I would want my spouse to make the decision. ... But it's better to have a living will. But I don't like going up the ladder; you know, we go to the federal courts, and the Congress, and on up. ... I would have preferred to see the decision made at the state level.
"But I've been involved in medicine with things similar, but not quite as difficult as this. But usually, we deferred to the family. And it wasn't made a big issue like this was. This was way out of proportion to what happens more routinely."
The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network -- an organization that supports the disabled and the incapacitated -- applauded the candidates but said clarification was needed about Schiavo's condition.
"Terri Schiavo was not dying, not in a coma, and not brain dead," a statement read. "Terri was not on a respirator, and she was not in vegetative state. Terri was a woman with a brain injury and simply needed to be fed through a feeding tube. The elderly, persons with cognitive disabilities, and the medically vulnerable are having their medical rights denied every day and dying at the hands of hospital 'death panels' that are making decisions to withhold their food and water."
The question about Schiavo was not posed to Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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