John Roberts Discusses Terri Schiavo Case in Senate Conversation

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 10, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

John Roberts Discusses Terri Schiavo Case in Senate Conversation Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 10, 2005

Washington, DC ( — A Democratic senator says Supreme Court nominee John Roberts discussed the high profile Terri Schiavo case with him during a meeting the two had on Tuesday. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, an assisted suicide advocate, says Roberts disagreed with Congress asking courts to take a new look at the case.

Shortly before Terri Schiavo’s husband won the right to starve and dehydrate her to death, Congress, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote, asked federal courts to review her parents’ case to stop her death.

A federal district judge, appeals court and the Supreme Court ultimately decided against reviewing the case, meaning state courts had the final say. Florida courts sided with Terri’s estranged husband Michael Schiavo in allowing Terri’s starvation.

Wyden told the New York Times that Roberts, while not addressing Terri’s case specifically, told him he disagrees with Congress’ vote to require the judicial review.

"I asked whether it was constitutional for Congress to intervene in an end-of-life case with a specific remedy," Wyden told the Times in an interview.

Wyden said: "His answer was, ‘I am concerned with judicial independence. Congress can prescribe standards, but when Congress starts to act like a court and prescribe particular remedies in particular cases, Congress has overstepped its bounds.’ "

Wyden indicated his aides wrote down the answer word for word.

The view might put Roberts at odds with pro-life lawmakers in Congress, but the answer doesn’t reveal his views on whether courts should have allowed Terri’s starvation. It also fits in with his view that the Supreme Court should let stand state laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that no right to assisted suicide exists, but states could decide whether to allow assisted suicides to take place.

In the cases, Washington v. Glucksburg and Vacco v. Quill, the court upheld laws against assisted suicide in Washington and New York.

On an interview that year with the PBS news program "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Roberts appeared to support the decisions.

"The right that was protected in the assisted-suicide case was the right of the people through their legislatures to articulate their own views on the policies that should apply in those cases of terminating life, and not to have the court interfering in those policy decisions," Roberts explained. "That’s an important right."

With regard to Terri Schiavo, pro-life lawmakers in Congress and Florida are pursuing legislation that would require courts and doctors to presume that incapacitated patients, like Terri, would want to have food and water unless they stated otherwise in an advance directive such as a living will.

Robert’s comments in the 1997 interview make it appear he would uphold such laws.

The Supreme Court, in its ucpoming term, will hear a case regarding a Bush administration decision prohibiting the use of federally controlled drugs from being used in assisted suicides in Oregon. All of the assied suicides in that state, the only one to legalize the practice, involved such drugs.