TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube re-inserted Oct. 21, capping a busy political day in which both chambers of the state legislature passed bills giving Bush the right to do so.
Incredibly, the House and Senate passed the bill and Bush signed it all in a three-hour span — reflecting a sense of urgency to keep the 39-year-old Schiavo alive. The bill gives Bush the authority to issue a one-time stay to prevent the withholding of nutrition and hydration from Schiavo, a Florida woman who has brain damage and whose feeding tube was removed Oct. 15 by court order.
The Senate passed the bill 23-15; the House 73-24.
“Effective immediately,” Bush said in the order, “all medical facilities and personnel providing medical care for Theresa Schiavo, and all those acting in concert or participation with them, are hereby directed to immediately provide nutrition and hydration to Theresa Schiavo by means of a gastronomy tube, or by any other method determined appropriate in the reasonable judgment of a licensed physician.”
Frantic debate over the case of Schiavo had lawmakers scurrying Oct. 20-21. They were already in Tallahassee for a special session to discuss the state budget.
“She’s still viable. Terri Schiavo is still viable,” Republican Sen. Anna Cowin said during debate, arguing for the bill’s passage. “… She can hear. You say, ‘Open your eyes’ and she opens them and you tell [her], ‘Open them wider’ and her eyes open wider. You tell her, ‘Turn your head,’ and she turns her head.”
A videotape posted on the Web (www.terrisfight.org) shows that Schiavo’s not a vegetable, Cowin asserted.
“The real reason we’re here today is because of the gut feeling of people who have turned on the Internet and have seen her not as an unconscious vegetable … but as a person who just can’t vocalize what she wants,” Cowin concluded.
Another bill supporter, Republican Daniel Webster, asked, “Does anyone here believe that every single time a court acts, it acts justly? Has there ever been a mistake made by a court in this state?”
Although Schiavo remains alive, her condition has worsened since being removed from the feeding tube. The attorney for her parents told Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, that as of noon Oct. 21 Schiavo looked “gaunt” and ashen.
“The attorney told me Terri is conscious and responsive,” Bunkley told the Florida Baptist Witness. “She acted like she knew the parents were in the room and she was not out of it in spite of any drugs they may have given her.”
Bunkley said he had heard that Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, has told doctors, hospice workers and anyone involved in the case that he will sue anyone who re-hydrates Schiavo.
The House actually passed a bill Oct. 20 on a 68-23 vote, but the Senate’s version Oct. 21 differed slightly, requiring the House to pass a new version.
House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, who initiated the legislative involvement, told reporters Oct. 20 he wanted to do something to save Schiavo. Bush met with the family Oct. 15 and promised to try and find a way to help them. Senate President Jim King originally indicated he did not want to intervene, but in a late afternoon press conference Oct. 20 told reporters if there was to be an error, he would rather err on the side of caution.
Byrd called House members back for a late-night session Oct. 20. After nearly two hours of debate, House members handily passed the bill by a 68-23 vote. The bill listed a rigid set of guidelines meant for Schiavo’s relief that gives Bush 15 days to order the feeding tube reinstated.
The House bill was nearly identical to the Senate’s original proposal, both of which stipulate the governor’s intervention in a narrow set of parameters: (1) The patient does not have a written directive; (2) The court has determined the patient to be in a “persistent vegetative state”; (3) The patient’s nutrition and hydration has been withheld; and (4) A member of the patient’s family challenges the withholding of nutrition and hydration.
In 1990 Schiavo suffered unexplained heart failure that caused oxygen deprivation and severe brain damage. Since 1993, her husband, Michael Schiavo, has sought the court’s approval to remove her feeding tube and has refused to allow her to receive rehabilitative care. Her parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, have fought his efforts and have garnered support from pro-life advocates across the country.
Later, after the Senate vote, Bunkley said he was surprised, but grateful for the speed at which lawmakers worked together to expedite matters.
“I just have witnessed one of the most extraordinary 24 hours in the history of the Florida legislature to see the speed and dispatch with which this problem was addressed,” Bunkley said.
The issue prompted Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Commission, to reflect on the culture.
“The fight over Terri Schiavo’s right to live and our society’s reaction to that fight shows us just how deeply the sanctity of life ethic has been eroded in our culture,” Land said in a statement issued to Baptist Press.
“This is a terribly wrenching case wherein we see the clash of two very disparate civilizations — the Judeo-Christian civilization, which is based upon the sanctity of all human life, and the neo-pagan relativist quality of life civilization,” he continued. “When those two totally antagonistic worldviews come up against each other, it makes a real difference in real peoples’ lives because real people die when the quality of life ethic usurps the sanctity of life ethic.”
Land said a feeding tube historically has not been considered an extraordinary measure in terms of medical care for a terminally ill patient. An extraordinary measure, he said, would be medical intervention beyond a basic feeding tube, such as a heart-lung machine or a ventilator.
“The problem is that we have courts that have been infected with this quality of life ethic,” Land said, noting it goes back to the abortion issue. “For over 30 years now we have been killing a baby every 20 seconds. By allowing this barbarity, we have brutalized our whole society, including our court system, in that we have devalued and de-sanctified human life to the point that now a court can casually sentence a human being to die by malnutrition and dehydration.”
Calling the Schiavo case an example of the “culture of death” which he says threatens society, Land said, “This is one of the most scandalous stories that I have heard about in a long time.”
Land cited the court’s consistent support of Terri’s husband, despite the fact her family desires the authority to provide her care and therapy.
“We need to have a presumption in favor of life, not a presumption in favor of death,” Land concluded, expressing appreciation that Florida’s legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush had not yet given up on Terri.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness at: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.
–Following is the text of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s executive order to have Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted:
“Like the tens of thousands of Floridians who have raised their voices in support of Terri Schiavo’s right to live, I have been deeply moved by these tragic circumstances. I understand the limitations cited by the judges who have declined to hear the later stages of this case. However, any life or death decision should be made only after careful consideration of all related facts and conditions. For that reason, I appreciate the extraordinary action of the Legislature today, and will use the discretion they have granted regarding the restoration of nutrition and water to Terri Schiavo.
“The conflict among family members over the best interests of this young woman has made us all acutely aware that uncertainty in these situations can, and does, compound the tragedy. I hope all Floridians, and any others who have followed this case, will ensure their best interests are clearly documented in a living will or other directive to spare their families a similar anguish.
“My thoughts and prayers remain with Terri and those who love her.”
STATE OF FLORIDA
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 03-201
WHEREAS, on October 21, 2003, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill
35-E (to be published as Public Law 03-418), signed this date by me, authorizing the Governor to issue a one-time stay in certain cases where, as of October 15, 2003, the action of withholding or withdrawing nutrition or hydration from a patient in a permanent vegetative state has already occurred and there is no written advance directive and a family member has challenged the withholding or withdrawing of nutrition and hydration; and
WHEREAS, under House Bill 35-E a person may not be held civilly liable and is not subject to regulatory or disciplinary sanctions for taking any action to comply with a stay issued by the Governor pursuant to House Bill 35-E; and
WHEREAS, in the case of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo, Robert Schindler and Mary Schindler, the parents of Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo, have requested that the Governor enter a stay prohibiting further withholding or withdrawing of nutrition or hydration; and
WHEREAS, a court has found that Theresa Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state as of October 15, 2003; and
WHEREAS, Theresa Schiavo had no written advance directive as of October 15, 2003; and
WHEREAS, nutrition and hydration have been withdrawn from Theresa Schiavo, and continues to be withheld as of October 15, 2003; and WHEREAS, the Schindlers have challenged the withdrawal and withholding of nutrition and hydration as of October 15, 2003; and
WHEREAS, an immediate and urgent need has arisen to address the removal of nutrition or hydration, because death due to lack of nutrition and hydration is imminent;
NOW THEREFORE, I, JEB BUSH, Governor of the State of Florida, by the powers vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of Florida, specifically House Bill 35-E, do hereby promulgate the following Executive Order, effective immediately:
A. Effective immediately, continued withholding of nutrition and hydration from Theresa Schiavo is hereby stayed.
B. Effective immediately, all medical facilities and personnel providing medical care for Theresa Schiavo, and all those acting in concert or participation with them, are hereby directed to immediately provide nutrition and hydration to Theresa Schiavo by means of a gastronomy tube, or by any other method determined appropriate in the reasonable judgment of a licensed physician.
C. While this order is effective, no person shall interfere with the stay entered pursuant to this order.
D. This order shall be binding on all persons having notice of its provisions.
E. This order shall be effective until such time as the Governor revokes it.
F. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement shall serve a
Copy of this Executive Order upon the medical facility currently providing
care for Theresa Schiavo.
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and have caused the Great Seal of the State of Florida to be affixed this 21st day of October, 2003.