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BREAKING NEWS ~ Senate passes Schiavo bill
BREAKING NEWS ~ Senate passes Schiavo bill

[JURIST] The US Senate has passed legislation to move the Terri Schiavo case into the federal courts. The House is expected to reconvene and vote on the bill later today.

5:10 PM – A transcript of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's floor statement in support of the bill is now available:

There has been a lot of discussion about what this bill actually does. Let me explain: simply put, it allows Terri’s case to be heard in a federal court. This legislation permits a federal district judge to consider a claim on behalf of Terri for alleged violations of Constitutional rights or federal laws relating to the withholding of food, water or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life.

This bill guarantees a process to help Terri, but does not guarantee a particular outcome. Once a new case is filed, a federal district judge can issue a stay at any time, 24 hours a day. A stay would allow Terri to be fed once again. The judge has discretion on this decision. However, I would expect that a federal judge would grant a stay under these circumstances because Terri would need to live in order for the court to consider the case.

If a new suit goes forward, the federal judge must conduct what’s called “de novo” review of the case. De novo review means the judge must look at the case anew. The judge need not rely on or defer to the decisions of previous judges. The judge also may make new findings of fact. Practically, this means that in a new case, the judge can reevaluate and reassess Terri’s medical condition.

Read the full text of Frist's statement.

The bill text [DOC; unformatted HTML version] is now also online from Frist's office. The language of the new Senate bill differs from that of the Senate legislation adopted Thursday [JURIST Gazette citation] in omitting a section authorizing the federal District Court to stay any state court order authorizing or directing withholding of food, fluids or medical treatment from Terri Schiavo, and adding a section saying that Congress should in this session consider policies regarding the status and legal rights of incapacitated individuals incapable of making decisions concerning the provision or withholding of food, fluid or medical care. Legal experts Sunday questioned the constitutional validity of the bill [Knight Ridder report] and suggested it might itself be challenged in the courts.

6:45 PM ET – The House is now scheduled to be called back into session for three hours of debate beginning at 9 PM ET, with a vote expected just after midnight. House Majority Leader Tom Delay has issued a late press release:

Last night, as you know, House and Senate negotiators reached a bipartisan, bicameral compromise proposal to provide Terri Schiavo a clear and appropriate avenue to have her case heard in federal court. The bill we’re working on has majority support in the House and the Senate, and it is going to pass. The only question is when. The few, objecting House Democrats have so far cost Mrs. Schiavo two meals already today, and we’re working now to resolve this in time for her to get some food and water tonight.

Mrs. Schiavo’s condition, I believe, has been at times misrepresented by the media, but far more often has simply gone unreported all together. Terri Schiavo is not on a respirator; she can breathe on her own. Terri Schiavo is not brain-dead; she talks and she laughs, and she expresses happiness and discomfort. Terri Schiavo is not on life-support.

She’s not being ‘kept alive’; she is alive. It won’t take a miracle to help Terri Schiavo; it will only take the medical care and therapy that all patients deserve. Mrs. Schiavo is not being denied heroic measures; she’s being denied basic, basic, basic medical and personal care.

“The legal issues, I grant everyone, are complicated, but the moral ones are not. What will it hurt to have a federal judge take a fresh look at all this evidence and apply it against 15 years’ worth of advances in medical technology? We have a bill – the Palm Sunday compromise – that will give her that chance. It is bipartisan and bicameral and has overwhelming support in both houses. It will eventually pass. We just hope the objectors let us vote on it before it’s too late.

Read the full text of the DeLay release.

8:31 PM ET – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has issued a press statement deploring the pending Congressional action:

The case of Terri Schiavo is a sad and tragic situation. Congressional leaders have no business substituting their judgment for that of multiple state courts that have extensively considered the issues in this intensely personal family matter. The actions of the majority in attempting to pass constitutionally-dubious legislation are highly irregular and an improper use of legislative authority.

Michael Schiavo is faced with a devastating decision, but, having been through the proper legal process, the decision for his wife's care belongs to him and to God.

This rush to exploit a personal tragedy is not fair to those involved and will not create good policy.

Read the full text of Pelosi's release.