Congressional Bill Would Protect Terri Schiavo, Disabled People

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 9, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Congressional Bill Would Protect Terri Schiavo, Disabled People Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 9, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Lawmakers in Congress made it official on Tuesday when they introduced legislation that would allow Terri Schiavo’s family to take their case to prevent her starvation death through the federal court system.

Rep. Dave Weldon and Senator Mel Martinez, both Florida Republicans, introduced companion measures in the House and Senate. They said disabled patients like Terri Schiavo should be able to have the same rights as prisoners on death row.

"This legislation is about due process equal protection for disabled individuals like Terri Schiavo," Martinez said. "It ensures Terri has the same federal legal protections as convicted murderers."

The bill would allow Terri’s parents to use a "writ of habeas corpus" to take the case out of the Florida state courts and to federal courts. The habeas corpus review would apply to any other patients like Terri who are subject to involuntary starvation and that’s what’s earning it praise from disability activists.

However, George Felos, the euthanasia advocate who is Michael Schiavo’s lead attorney, told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper that the legislation was a "horrible" idea.

"To allow never-ending federal review of state court decisions would make it virtually impossible to carry out patients’ wishes if anyone in the family disagreed," he claimed.

Felos said the bill was unconstitutional and could cause years of delays in Terri’s parents’ case if it becomes law. Supporters of the bill counter that what has been unconstitutional is the violation of Terri’s 14th Amendment due process rights.

"A court order to withdraw food and water is pretty extreme. For the federal legal system to sit by idly and let the state do that would be a dereliction of duty," Weldon said in explaining the rationale behind his bill.

Weldon and Martinez are hopeful they can run their bills quickly through the legislative process. Already, 62 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives have signed on a co-sponsors of Weldon’s measure.

Passing the bill in the Senate may prove more difficult — especially if any senator launches a filibuster. At that point, 60 votes would be needed to end debate and vote on the bill.

ACTION: Contact any Representative at or any Senator at You can also reach any member of Congress by calling 202-224-3121.