WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate passed a bill Sunday afternoon that could save Terri Schiavo’s life, sending it to the House, which is expected to vote on it after midnight.
The plan had been for the House to take up the bill first, but when House Democrats objected early Sunday afternoon, the Senate decided to take it up. It passed there on a voice vote.
If it passes the House unamended, it will go to President Bush, who has said he will sign it. If the bill is amended, it will go back to the Senate, where it must pass again before it goes to Bush.
Congress had hoped to pass the bill Sunday afternoon, but a handful of House Democrats objected, preventing it from passing on unanimous consent. Unanimous consent is not required for the bill to pass after midnight, which on the calendar would be a Monday vote. But because it is an expedited bill, it must pass by two-thirds of those present, the Associated Press reported.
The bill would provide Schiavo’s parents the opportunity to appeal the case to a federal court which would give a complete review of the facts. In essence, the judge would be starting over, with new witnesses and new evidence allowed. The narrowly tailored bill applies only to Schiavo’s case.
“It seems to me the presumption should be in favor of life, and not in favor of starvation,” Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, said at a Sunday news conference.
Congress attempted but failed to keep the feeding tube in place Friday with a series of subpoenas and even a request for Schiavo herself to appear before a Senate committee. But those efforts failed, as Florida Judge George Greer ignored them and ordered the feeding tube removed. If not re-inserted she will die of starvation and dehydration within a week or so.
Schiavo’s case has captured the nation’s attention in recent weeks, with President Bush even weighing in. For years her parents and her husband have been in a legal struggle over whether she should live or die. While her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she would not want to live in her present state, no written request exists. Meanwhile, he has lived with his girlfriend, by whom he has fathered two children. Her parents say she has the capacity to swallow and could learn to eat food orally. Terri Schiavo is 41.
“If this were your daughter and you had a situation where the husband was with another woman [and] has fathered two children by her, it would at least raise the question as to whether or not he’s acting in the best interest of his wife,” Smith said.
Although a handful of Democrats prevented its passage by unanimous consent, the bill is expected to receive considerable support from both parties.
One Democrat, Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, appeared at the news conference Saturday and. said the bill brings together people of “different” beliefs and is “carefully crafted.”
“I think it’s a fair resolution and it is narrowly targeted,” Oberstar said.
Opponents of the bill contend that the situation is a private family matter and that Congress should not get involved. But Rep. Donald Manzullo, R.-Ill., said Sunday that the issue requires federal intervention.
“To say that Congress should not get involved in situations where the lives of people are involved means that this body should go home and just fold up and leave everything to the executive and judicial branches,” he said.
The bill, he said, is constitutional.
“The Constitution specifically gives power to Congress to determine jurisdiction of federal courts,” Manzullo said. “We make that decision. … That decision is not subject to judicial review.”