March 22, 2005
The East Valley’s congressional delegation is solidly behind the unprecedented law that could prolong Terri Schiavo’s life.
Tribune readers, however, question whether Congress should have become embroiled in the thorny Florida case and worry that it could be a bellwether for future intrusions into state and individual rights.
In any case, a new online database that allows Arizonans to make their health care wishes clear and readily accessible is attracting more attention.
Barbara Volk-Craft of Hospice of the Valley, which is underwriting the advance directives registry, fielded dozens of calls and e-mails Monday. More than 100 people have registered since the database went up March 1.
"Regardless of which side of the argument they fall on, all of them are saying, ‘I wouldn’t want my family to be in that situation,’ " Volk-Craft said.
Schiavo’s fate has been debated for years as she lies in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael, says his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially, but her parents disagree and both sides have waged a bitter court battle over whether to remove her feeding tube.
Congress entered the fray late last week after the feeding tube was removed and members were called back from a two-week Easter break to vote on legislation that sent the case to federal court. Three of the state’s eight-member congressional delegation made it back in time to cast "aye" votes Monday, two of them representing the East Valley — Republicans Trent Franks and J.D. Hayworth. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., also voted for the measure.
The two other area congressmen, GOP Reps. John Shadegg and Jeff Flake, did not vote. Neither did Reps. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., and Raul Grijalva, DAriz. In all, about 40 percent of the House’s 435 members were absent.
Shadegg was en route, but a mechanical problem delayed his plane out of Dallas and he missed the vote by less than an hour. The former state assistant attorney general, however, said Congress had a legal right and a moral responsibility to intervene on Terri Schiavo’s behalf, in part because both Michael Schiavo’s motivation and his wife’s medical condition are in question.
"I think it was the right thing to do under these circumstances," Shadegg said. "What’s wrong with ensuring that there’s a federal court review before someone is starved to death?"
Although Shadegg and others in Washington say the case is specific to Terri Schiavo and not precedent-setting, Hospice of the Valley medical director Gregory Mayer is concerned that it could be.
"One of the most unfortunate things is there are people who are involved now who don’t have any information," he said. "Disagreements among families about the direction of care happen all the time. But you want to keep it there."
Dozens from the Tribune Reader Network responded when asked whether Congress has acted appropriately, and about two-thirds said federal lawmakers had no business getting involved. Most cited states rights and separation of powers, and were saddened that Schiavo had been kept alive this long.
"This is simply a case of Congress (and the President) playing politics with people’s lives," wrote Dave Van Amburg. "While I sympathize with her parents’ emotional response, keeping the body "alive" at this point is torture, not humanity."
Others, however, were deeply concerned that Michael Schiavo was abandoning his wife and said letting her starve is tantamount to murder.
"I think Congress acted entirely within their purview," said Norm Noble of Sun Lakes. "No state judge should have the right to issue a death warrant in a matter such as this. The courts treat animals more humanely than this."
For information about advance health care directives, visit www.hcdecisions.org or call (602) 222-2229. Or try the Arizona Attorney
General’s Office Web site: