[JURIST] The Florida Senate has begun debate on Terri Schiavo legislation. An amended version of SB 804 [bill summary] would prohibit suspension of sustenance or hydration of a person in persistent vegatative state when family members disagree on the course of action based on alleged prior oral statements of the person and where that person left no prior written directive. Leading the debate, Republican state Senator and chair of the state Senate Judiciary Committee Daniel Webster [official profile] said that where the state becomes the referee in such circumstances the state should "err on the side of life". Watch the debate live via the Florida Channel.
1:55 PM ET – A number of Senators have raised questions on the floor about the bill, with state Senate Democratic leader Walter Campbell saying that is it legally invalid and unconstitutional. Campbell said it had been drafted in committee in about 10 minutes and was not appropriately framed.
2:18 PM ET – Several Senators have argued that the bill is in practice overbroad, allowing too many challenges by too many people. Webster said that in the Schiavo case, if the bill were passed, someone would petition the state court, the court would go back and look for evidence of conflict in family allegations regarding a person's wishes, and then if a conflict were identified withdrawal of sustenance would be prohibited. Webster has also insisted that any problems with the draft of the bill could be resolved at later stages after the bill came back to the Senate from the House after initial Senate passage.
2:28 PM ET – Webster says that does not believe his Senate bill, even if approved by the Senate, would be taken up by the state House and passed, but "I have to try." The comment reflects the political reality that a Florida Senate action may be too late to save Terri Schaivo.
2:36 PM ET – In debate, state Senator Frederica Wilson said she had received telephone death threats because of her vote against an earlier version of the legislation, and in an emotional appeal pleaded for the calls to stop. She said she didn't appreciate being threatened with death by people supposedly concerned with the sanctity of life.
2:54 PM ET – Senator Dave Aronberg has criticized the bill for not defining what a "conflict" is, for not providing for oral declarations, and also emphasized that because of the way it is drafted, with reference only to removal of sustenance that has not already been removed, the bill cannot apply to Terri Schiavo.