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Pro-life leaders respond with hope as Congress intervenes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pro-life leaders have lauded the move by Congress and President Bush to pass legislation that could prolong the life of Terri Schiavo but warn an ultimate culture of life victory in this case is not yet secured.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he is “delighted” that Congress went back into session from their Easter recess and that President Bush returned to the White House from his Texas ranch to sign the bill. The bill gives Schiavo’s parents the opportunity to have a complete review of the case in federal court.

“Terri is not terminally ill,” Land said in a statement to Baptist Press. “She doesn’t need any help breathing; she just needs assistance ingesting food and water. We are now presented with the spectacle of newspapers, like The New York Times, arguing that dying of starvation and dehydration is a peaceful way to die. How shameful.

“If you starve your pet dog or cat to death, you will be arrested for cruelty to animals. But we have major segments of this society which are so committed to the morally poverty-stricken, quality-of-life ethic that they are willing to try to justify starvation and dehydration as a ‘peaceful’ way to die.”

Land said that Michael Schiavo — Terri’s legal husband and guardian — has refused to allow rehabilitative treatment for his wife and is cohabiting with a woman by whom he has fathered two children.

“Terri’s husband has withdrawn her from any external stimuli by placing her in hospice care, an environment that is usually reserved for the terminally ill,” Land said. “At least Terri is now going to get her day in federal court with someone other than her husband representing her. For that, the congressmen and senators — Democrat and Republican — who voted to guarantee the protection of her 14th Amendment rights are to be commended. Terri Schiavo has become a real and meaningful test of how far what Pope John Paul II has called the ‘culture of death’ has permeated our society.”

Schiavo, 41, is Catholic, and her parents say that if she could communicate she would desire to follow the Pope’s wishes. Pope John Paul II has spoken out in the case, condemning the pulling of the feeding tube.

Attorney Ken Connor, who has represented Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in trying to keep Schiavo alive, told Baptist Press he is “gratified and heartened” that Congress and the president acted with haste to give Schiavo another chance at life. A federal judge is scheduled to hear the case, but Connor said the clock is ticking.

“Our concern simply is that with each passing hour, Terri becomes at greater risk for dying from complications of dehydration and time is of the essence,” he said.

“Our fervent hope, of course, is that the judge will act to reinsert the tube while these weighty legal issues can be parsed and sifted. The way to ensure the court has the time to ruminate on these issues, in our judgment, is through the reinsertion of the tube,” Connor, who initiated the bill set before Congress, added.

Connor said the Supreme Court noted in the case of another disabled woman on a feeding tube — Nancy Cruzan in 1990 — that “accuracy should be the touchstone of the decision-making process, not finality, because if you get it wrong, the error is not correctable.”

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, expressed gratitude for the actions of Congress.

“Today, we have witnessed the extraordinary will of Congress to ensure that Terri Schiavo’s right to life — the first right set out in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence — is protected,” Dobson said in a statement. “Congress and President Bush have given life the benefit of the doubt and paved the way for a federal court to review whether her other constitutional rights have been violated.”

Dobson called the legislation “a congressional act of mercy” and said Americans can be proud of their representatives who made it happen.

“I hope and pray that the federal judge who receives this case will proceed with the care and caution due such an important test of our country’s — and mankind’s — most foundational right,” Dobson said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the decision by Congress to intercede reveals a different picture of lawmakers than many people are accustomed to seeing.

“So often we see members of Congress portrayed as unfeeling and unconnected, but this case has brought good people on Capitol Hill to the forefront,” he said.

Perkins also questioned Michael Schiavo’s motives in battling to have her feeding tube removed.

“The details prompting serious suspicion are endless and should be enough to grant the family who wants to care for their loved one the right to keep her alive with their hard work, sacrifice and compassion,” he said.

C. Ben Mitchell, a Christian ethicist and associate professor of bioethics at Trinity International University in suburban Chicago, told Baptist Press a line has been drawn in the sand to show which members of Congress are worth re-electing and which are not.

“Extraordinary cases call for extraordinary measures,” Mitchell said. “Those members of Congress who are willing to commit themselves to a culture of life should be congratulated. Those who are not should be replaced in the next election.”

Mitchell echoed Perkins’ doubt that Michael Schiavo has his wife’s best interests in mind in the situation.

“Compassionate care, including nutrition and hydration, is the very least we can do for someone whose wishes are not known to us,” he said. “Again, Terri’s parents seem to be more reliable guides in this case than Michael Schiavo, whose credibility is at best very, very thin.”

After signing the bill President Bush released a statement saying Americans should err on the side of life.

“In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life,” the president said. “This presumption is especially critical for those like Terri Schiavo who live at the mercy of others. I appreciate the bipartisan action by the members of Congress to pass this bill.

“I will continue to stand on the side of those defending life for all Americans, including those with disabilities.”
With reporting by Michael Foust & Dwayne Hastings.

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  • Erin Curry