Senator Bill Frist Discusses Terri Schiavo Controversy in Interview

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 30, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senator Bill Frist Discusses Terri Schiavo Controversy in Interview Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 30, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was one of the leading members of Congress to push for legislation to help Terri Schiavo’s parents get a federal court review of their lawsuit to stop their daughter’s painful euthanasia death. Frist discussed those efforts in a recent interview.

In an interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Frist, a doctor, defended his comments before Terri’s death that she was not in a persistent vegetative state, as her estranged husband and media reports declared.

Frist, a possible 2008 Republican presidential candidate, said he felt it was important to discuss Terri’s condition "because once you give somebody that diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, you can kill her."

"Before you condemn her to death, you need to make sure that diagnosis is right," he said, adding that he felt it was important to note that all of Terri’s blood relatives and family members pleaded with the courts not to take her life.

Frist also said he disagreed with the outcome of the legal battle — that allowed Terri’s estranged husband Michael to ask doctors to remove her feeding tube, causing her death.

"[U]ltimately she died, and I accept the outcome," he said. "I don’t agree with the moral sense of it for me."

Frist said that the most important lesson he learned from the national debate over Terri’s life and death was that Americans oppose government involvement in end of life issues.

Asked during the NBC program if he had any regrets regarding the controversy, he said: "Well, I’ll tell you what I learned from it, which is obvious. The American people don’t want you involved in these decisions."

"But I will say again as a physician, but as a senator, when you’re taking innocent life with parents who want that life preserved, you got to make sure," he explained. "And therefore stepping and saying, ‘Let’s take one more review.’ That’s what we did."

Despite Frist’s comments, an April 2005 Zogby poll showed the nation clearly supporting Terri and her parents and wanting to protect the lives of other disabled patients.

The Zogby poll found that, if a person becomes incapacitated and has not expressed their preference for medical treatment, as in Terri’s case, 43 percent say "the law presume that the person wants to live, even if the person is receiving food and water through a tube" while just 30 percent disagree.

Another Zogby question his directly on Terri’s circumstances.

"If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water," the poll asked.

A whopping 79 percent said the patient should not have food and water taken away while just 9 percent said yes.