House Committee Holds Hearing on Terri Schiavo, Protecting Disabled

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 20, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

House Committee Holds Hearing on Terri Schiavo, Protecting Disabled Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 20
, 2005

Washington, DC ( — A House committee held a hearing on the debate surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo, the disabled woman who was starved during a painful thirteen day long process.

The hearing was supposed to include Terri and her estranged husband Michael, but judges ignored Congressional subpoenas asking them to appear and allowed her death.

Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican congressman who is also a doctor by profession, testified in front of members of the House Committee on Government Reform.

He told them that feeding tubes should not be removed from incapacitated people whose medical costs are paid in part by the federal government unless the patient has previously given explicit instructions to withdraw food and water.

Weldon told members of the committee he is writing legislation to require Medicare and Medicaid to have a national standard that requires providing all patients with food and water when necessary unless patient’s say otherwise beforehand.

"You’re going to see more and more people who are less and less disabled being denied care if we do not at least establish some kind of floor or basement or fundamental standard," Weldon said.

Weldon said the federal government system should have a "biased toward life," according to a Ft. Wayne Journal newspaper report.

Indiana Rep. Mark Souder, also a Republican, chaired the meeting.

He agreed with Weldon and said the federal government "should protect patients rather than pave the way to hasten their death."

Souder said legislation is needed to presume a patient would want lifesaving medical treatment when no treatment decisions have been made in advance. Without such legislation, courts or doctors can decide patients should die, as happened with Terri.

"This creates a vacuum where someone else may determine that a patient’s life is one not worth living, and this is most definitely a slippery slope," Souder said, the Journal reported.

A Department of Health and Human Services official who works with Medicare and Medicaid said the agency doesn’t make patient treatments decisions and said patients, families and doctors do.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Florida Republican, told members she was concerned that private insurance companies will not follow the same guidelines, if Weldon’s proposal becomes law, as the federal government.

However, Weldon said insurance companies usually track with federal law concerning the two major programs.

The Ft. Wayne paper reported that Bob Sedlmeyer, the father of a 19 year old Indiana woman whose birth defects left her incapacitated, told members of the committee that legislation like Weldon’s is necessary.

Sedlmeyer worried that, as support for euthanasia grows, "her right to die may become her duty to die."

He said it was frightening "that the value of [Terri’s] life, as measured by the scales of our justice system, did not merit even food and water."

Last month, Weldon was a lead House sponsor of the bill asking courts to stop Terri’s starvation death and to allow her parents to take their lawsuit to federal courts.

Earlier this month, a Senate health committee held hearings on the plight of Terri Schiavo and end of life care. The meeting was marked by partisan division as lawmakers sparred over the best way to address patient treatment issues.