GOP Candidates Defend Support for Terri Schiavo’s Family

Politics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 24, 2012   |   12:02PM   |   Washington, DC

Two of the Republican presidential candidates in last night’s debate defended their support for Terri Schiavo’s family in their 2005 bid to defend the right to life of their daughter, whose former husband was attempting to starve her to death.

“Senator Santorum, in 2005, Florida was in the middle of a huge national debate over Terri Schiavo, whether her feeding tube should be removed after the courts had ruled that she had been in a vegetative state for years,” questioner Adam Smith of the “The Tampa Bay Times” asked, despite the fact that experts questioned whether she was in such a state.

“You were at the center, at the front of advocating congressional intervention to keep her alive. You even came down here, came to her bedside after a fund-raiser,” Smith continued in his biased question. “Why should the government have more say in medical decisions like that than a spouse?”

Rick Santorum responded to the question, saying, “Well, number one, I didn’t come to her bedside, but I did come down to Tampa. I was scheduled to come down anyway for that event, and it so happened that this situation was going on. I did not call for congressional intervention. I called for a judicial hearing by an impartial judge at the federal level to review a case in which you had parents and a spouse on different sides of the issue.”

“And these were constituents of mine,” Santorum, who is pro-life, added. “The parents happen to live in Pennsylvania, and they came to me and made a very strong case that they would like to see some other pair of eyes, judicial eyes, look at it. And I agreed to advocate for those constituents because I believe that we should give respect and dignity for all human life, irrespective of their condition.”

“And if there was someone there that wanted to provide and take care of them, and they were willing to do so, I wanted to make sure that the judicial proceedings worked properly. And that’s what I did, and I would do it again,” Santorum said.

Smith then asked Santorum if DNR orders are “immoral” even though the central debate in Terri’s case was whether she would be starved and dehydrated to death.

“No, I don’t believe they’re immoral. I mean, I think that’s a decision that people should be able to make, and I have supported legislation in the past for them to make it,” he said.

Smith then asked Newt Gingrich, “Speaker Gingrich, in that case the courts had ruled repeatedly. How does that square, the Terri Schiavo, action with your understanding of the Constitution and separation of powers?”

“Well, look, I think that we go to extraordinary lengths, for example, for people who are on murderers row. They have extraordinary rights of appeal,” Gingrich, who is also pro-life, said about the need to defend defenseless patients like Schiavo.

“And you have here somebody who was in a coma, who had, on the one hand, her husband saying let her die and her parents saying let her live. Now, it strikes me that having a bias in favor of life, and at least going to a federal hearing, which would be automatic if it was a criminal on death row, that it’s not too much to say in some circumstances your rights as an American citizen ought to be respected. And there ought to be at least a judicial review of whether or not in that circumstance you should be allowed to die, which has nothing to do with whether or not you as a citizen have a right to have your own end-of-life prescription which is totally appropriate for you to do as a matter of your values in consultation with your doctor,” Gingrich continued.

Ron Paul was asked his view of the case and the pro-life physician surprised some observers by saying he thought the state courts, which had signed off on Terri’s ex-husband’s request to take her life, should have been the final arbiter.

“I find it so unfortunate, so unusual, too. That situation doesn’t come up very often. It should teach us all a lesson to have living wills or a good conversation with a spouse. I would want my spouse to make the decision. And — but it’s better to have a living will,” he said. “But I don’t like going up the ladder. You know, we go to the federal courts, and the Congress, and on up. Yes, difficult decisions. Will it be perfect for everybody? No. But I would have preferred to see the decision made at the state level.”

“But I’ve been involved in medicine with things similar, but not quite as difficult as this. But usually, we deferred to the family. And it wasn’t made a big issue like this was. This was way out of proportion to what happens more routinely,” he said. “But I think it should urge us all to try to plan for this and make sure either that one individual that’s closest to you makes the decision or you sign a living will. And this would have solved the whole problem.”