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Doing their duty by Terri
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


March 31, 2005

Reasonable people may disagree about the outcome, but the fact is, the system worked for Terri Schiavo. Since the first litigation over her case in 1993, the courts - state, state supreme, federal district, U.S. court of appeals and U.S. Supreme - have ruled consistently in favor of her husband, Michael.

The key decision came in 2000 when a Florida circuit court judge, after an intensely fought adversarial proceeding, accepted Michael Schiavo's assertion that his wife had not wished to be kept alive by artificial means. The decision withstood repeated appeals, and six times the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently Wednesday, declined to hear the case.

These were painful decisions - her grieving parents were heartbroken - but there have to be mechanisms and laws for making them. And just because some intense partisans found the decisions wrong is no reason to wreck the system, which is what, in essence, the Florida legislature and later Congress and President Bush tried to do.

In 2003, after Terri Schiavo had been in a medically verified persistent vegetative state for 13 years, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the state legislature leapt into the case with a law ordering her feeding tube reinserted. The following year the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law.

Last month, President Bush and the congressional Republicans got involved, breaking off their Easter recess to pass a bill specifically ordering the federal courts to review the case with the clear intention of reversing 12 years of near unanimous judicial findings. Brushed aside were such concerns as states' rights and the right to make private medical decisions free of government interference.

The district court stood by the earlier decisions and refused to order the feeding tube reinserted. Wednesday, the full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals declined 9 to 2 to overrule the lower court and in the process issued a stern and much-needed rebuke. Judge Stanley Birch Jr., like almost every judge in this legal marathon a conservative Republican, said Bush and Congress acted "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people - our Constitution."

Birch added "the time has come for dispassionate discharge of duty." The courts had done their painful duty. Terri Schiavo died Thursday morning. May she rest in peace and her husband and parents also find peace.



Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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