Terri Schiavo’s death prompted messages of sympathy from President Bush and other political leaders, but did not settle the long-standing feud between her husband and parents and spurred some Republican congressional leaders to demand further action.
But members of the Washington state delegation said there may not be anything further for Congress to do on the type of “end-of-life” decisions at the center of the Schiavo case.
Cradled by her husband, Schiavo, 41, died a “calm, peaceful and gentle death” about 9 a.m. Thursday, a stuffed animal under her arm, flowers arranged around her hospice room, said George Felos, Michael Schiavo’s attorney.
No one from her side of the family was with her at the moment of her death. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, were not at the hospice, Felos said. And her brother had been barred from the room at Michael Schiavo’s request moments before the end came.
The death of the severely brain-damaged woman brought to a close what was easily the longest, most bitter – and most heavily litigated – right-to-die dispute in U.S. history.
“Mr. Schiavo’s overriding concern here was to provide for Terri a peaceful death with dignity,” said Felos, who was also present at the death.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, one of the Schindlers’ spiritual advisers, called her death “a killing,” adding: “And for that we not only grieve that Terri has passed but we grieve that our nation has allowed such an atrocity as this and we pray that it will never happen again.”
Shiavo’s body was taken from the hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., by a medical examiner’s team for an autopsy. After the autopsy, Michael Schiavo plans to have her body cremated and her ashes buried in an undisclosed location near Philadelphia so that her immediate family doesn’t show up and turn the burial into a media spectacle, his brother Scott Schiavo said.
“If Mike knew they would come in peace, he would have no problem with it,” Scott Schiavo said.
In Washington on Thursday, the president was careful to extend condolences to Schiavo’s “families” – meaning both Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers – even though he backed efforts to reconnect her feeding tube.
“I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others,” the president said.
House Republican Leader Tom DeLay blamed Schiavo’s death on what he contended was a failed legal system and he raised the possibility of trying to impeach some of the federal judges in the case. He condemned the state and federal judges who refused to prolong her life, and he warned that lawmakers “will look at an arrogant and out-of-control judiciary that thumbs its nose at Congress and the president.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when a U.S. judge stopped feeding a living American so that they took 14 days to die,” he said.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Congress should pass the broad legislation that House Republicans favored in the Schiavo case but which was narrowed to cover only the Florida woman after a compromise with the White House.
“Terri’s will to live should serve as an inspiration and impetus for action,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
The House bill, giving jurisdiction of the Schiavo case to the federal courts, would have applied to any case in which there were questions about withholding food or medical treatment from an incapacitated person.
Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were not in the capital two weeks ago when the Senate approved the narrowly drafted measure limited to the Schiavo case. But spokeswomen for the two Washington Democrats said both would have voted against the measure.
Charla Newman, a spokeswoman for Cantwell, said her boss believes it is not the place of Congress to intervene in such cases.
“She doesn’t think it’s Congress’s place to interfere with a decision between Terri Schiavo and her husband,” Newman said. With most senators and representatives away from Washington, D.C., for the Easter recess, it’s hard to predict what sort of legislation might actually be proposed.
“Oftentimes, people tend to politicize these things,” Newman said. “She’d have to see what any particular legislation says.”
Murray also considered the Schiavo case a private issue, not a congressional matter, said spokeswoman Alex Glass. “She sees no reason for Congress to get involved” in anything further in the case, Glass added.
Rep. Cathy McMorris, an Eastern Washington Republican, supported the narrow legislation written strictly for the Schiavo case. Although a flight delay kept her from getting back in time for the House vote, McMorris said she would have voted for the bill that asked the federal judiciary to take one more look at this case.
But chief of staff Connie Partoyan said McMorris does not currently support any further federal action on right-to-die legislation or other end-of-life issues.
“I think she would say under normal circumstances it’s a state issue,” Partoyan said, adding that nothing has formally been proposed on those topics.