More than five years have passed since the death of Terri Schiavo, the reportedly quiet and shy Pennsylvania girl, who those five years ago was the center of worldwide attention, as her husband Michael—the first man Terri ever kissed—finally succeeded in allowing her to pass away with not much dignity to spare.
Terri Schiavo was 26 years old when she suffered extensive brain damage, after collapsing at her home in St. Petersburg, Florida, the victim of cardiac arrest. That was in 1990. After a couple of months in a coma, doctors diagnosed her as being in a persistent vegetative state, a diagnosis that would be challenged again and again over the next 15 years.
After a long trial of experimental therapy, and with hope gone, in 1998 Michael finally asked the Pinellas County Florida Sixth Circuit Court for permission to remove the feeding tube that had kept Terri alive for eight years. Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, understandably not wanting to let go of their daughter, fought Michael’s attempt to let his wife pass in peace.
Thus, a lengthy fight in the courts began, and it would not end until just before Terri’s death in 2005, closing with one of the most unseemly and disgusting political episodes in our nation’s history, certainly in the history of the Republican Party.
And near the center of that unseemly and disgusting political fiasco was our own Roy Blunt.
Blunt, who as Republican Majority Whip in 2005, was the right hand man of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who while the Republicans controlled the House—and before he was forced to resign amid accusations of money laundering and violating campaign finance laws—was nicknamed “The Hammer” because of his fierce enforcement of ideological and party discipline and his tendency to punish his political enemies.
But before I get to Blunt’s role in the Terri Schiavo case, it’s important to understand the dynamics of what was happening back in 2005 regarding the case.
Tom DeLay, along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, led the Republican charge to use the federal government to essentially ignore the years of state court litigation in Florida over whether the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive should be removed and whether Terri would have wanted it removed.
DeLay favored congressional action that would essentially usurp state jurisdiction in such matters in order to satisfy his Christian, “pro-life” sensibilities. “Terri Schiavo doesn’t want to die,” DeLay confidently said at a press conference on March 18, 2005—with Roy Blunt at his side.
But others quickly concluded at the time that the Schiavo case was more about politics than compassion, Christian or otherwise. A memo written by a lawyer working for Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez surfaced, which declared the Schiavo case would be “a great political issue” that would “excite” the party’s pro-life base.
And of course it did.
But The Hammer, not content to merely play politics or argue the niceties of moral philosophy, actually attacked the Florida judge who heard the original Schiavo case and who had consistently ruled that Michael Schiavo’s request to administer mercy to his wife should be granted.
That judge, George W. Greer, was a Southern Baptist Republican. Here’s what Tom DeLay—again with Roy Blunt at his side—said about Judge Greer during the March 18, 2005, press conference, on the very day and at the very hour that Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was to be removed:
What this is about, is we have a state court with a judge that has been trying to kill Terri Schiavo for four and a half years…
Such was the venom pouring from the lips of The Exterminator, Mr. DeLay, in those days. He also called removal of the feeding tube “an act of barbarism,” and accused three Democratic Senators, who failed to see things his way, of, well, I’ll just let him say it:
Those Senators responsible for blocking our bill yesterday afternoon—Senator Boxer, Senator Wyden, and Senator Levin—have put Mrs. Schiavo’s life at risk to prove a point, an unprecedented profile of cowardice.
Cowardice, he said. Unprecedented cowardice.
About a week later, The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the DeLay family had faced a similar Schiavo-like situation back in 1988, when the family decided to allow the congressman’s father to die because, after a freak accident at home, he would “basically be a vegetable“:
“There was no point to even really talking about it,” Maxine DeLay, the congressman’s 81-year-old mother, recalled last week. “There was no way he (Charles) wanted to live like that. Tom knew, we all knew, his father wouldn’t have wanted to live that way.”*
Now, it turns out that Roy Blunt, who currently is laboring to become our U.S. Senator and thus a colleague of Senators Boxer, Wyden, and Levin, was in agreement with Delay’s “cowardice” assessment. He said, moments after DeLay’s comment about the Senators:
I share the leader’s disappointment with less than a handful of individuals who stood in the way of that bill being sent to the president yesterday and this being resolved at that time.
So, Blunt essentially concurred with the “cowardice” characterization and continued with this:
It’s really hard to imagine a death a lot more hideous than simply deciding that you’re no longer going to allow someone to have food and water, and as you watch them dehydrate, and starve to death. It’s clear from watching the tapes of Terri Schiavo that she interacts with people, she’s aware of her surroundings, she attempts to communicate.
Questioner: Mr. Blunt, you expressed a, kind of a medical opinion about Ms. Schiavo’s condition based on what you’ve seen on TV, and many, many doctors have pronounced her to be in a vegetative state. How is it that you think you’ve got a better handle on what condition she’s in than they do?
Blunt: You know her mother who sees her, I think every day, has a different opinion than they do, too. And she appears to recognize her mother, to make attempts to communicate. And beyond that, if you want to get into the medical position here, I think the medical view is that she’s not being kept alive by any artificial means. She’s only being given food and water. The medical care here is at a minimum to sustain life. It’s not like she’s on some huge life support system. She’s very much alive, and the only way that she won’t be alive is if the people responsible for her care stop feeding her and stop giving her liquids. I think that’s the medical line that needs to be drawn here. But when you look at the films of her, her change—the way she appears to change when her mother comes into the room, there is a recognition there.
Now, perhaps it never occurred to Roy Blunt, or any of the Republicans involved in the Schiavo legislative travesty, that Judge Greer—who had presided over the case from the beginning—had considered all the evidence, including the video and extensive medical testimony provided by real experts, not just the observations of a Republican legislator from Springfield, Mo., watching from afar.
At the first Schiavo trial in March of 2000, 18 witnesses testified about her medical condition and whether she preferred heroic care at the end of her life. Judge Greer found that Terri was indeed in a persistent vegetative state and that her husband Michael’s claim that she would not want to be kept alive artificially was credible. An appeals court affirmed that decision.
In April of 2001, Terri’s feeding tube was removed for the first but not the last time. Further court action by the Schindlers resulted in the reinsertion of the tube within two days. In 2002, an evidentiary hearing was held, involving CAT scan results, EEG data, and the testimony of five doctors—two of which were chosen by Terri’s parents.
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, which relates to Roy Blunt’s video diagnosis:
The five doctors examined Terri’s medical records, brain scans, the videos, and Terri herself. Drs. Cranford, Greer, and Bambakidis testified that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state. Drs. Maxfield and Hammesfahr testified that she was in a minimally conscious state. As part of the court-ordered medical exam, six hours of video of Terri were taped and filed at the Pinellas County courthouse. The tape included Terri with her mother and neurologist William Hammesfahr. The entire tape was viewed by Judge Greer, who wrote, Terri “clearly does not consistently respond to her mother.” From that six hours of video, the Schindlers and their supporters produced six clips totaling almost six minutes and released those clips to public websites.
It’s hard to believe that Roy Blunt sat down and watched the entire six hours of video of Terri Schiavo. Perhaps if he had done so, he would not have sat beside Tom DeLay at that press conference in March of 2005 and made an utter fool of himself.
In any case, he was at that press conference, which can be viewed here. He was also on the Today show debating the issue, which can be found here. And there are other places one can find even more information, for those still unconvinced of Roy Blunt’s shameful role as co-pilot, while the Republican Party flew itself into legislative lunacy.
There is much more to the Schiavo case, and it makes for sad reading. But eventually, DeLay, Frist, and Blunt got a version of their federal legislation—termed by DeLay as the Palm Sunday Compromise—passed by questionable means.
But to no avail. Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, refused to bite.
After seven years of court battles, Michael Schiavo finally prevailed. Judge Greer’s last order to remove the feeding tube—the day Blunt and DeLay held their press conference—was upheld.
Terri Schiavo died at Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, not quite two weeks later.
Needless to say, the comprehensive post-mortem examination revealed that Judge Greer had made the correct decision. Terri Schiavo’s brain was extensively and irreversibly damaged. Her vegetative state was very real.
Although there is much to be learned from what Republicans attempted to do during the fight over the fate of Terri Schiavo, for voters in Missouri, one fact stands out.
The man who wants to be our representative in the U. S. Senate, who seeks entrance to “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” is, by virtue of his role in the Schiavo case, unworthy to represent us. His judgment is flawed.
Scott Schiavo, Michael’s brother, said this to Jennifer Frey of The Washington Post just before Terri’s protracted death:
“It’s so sad that they’ve turned this wonderful person into a sideshow,” Scott says, his voice shaking. “Into a media circus. It’s such a shame. It really is. The one that’s hurt the most here is Terri. Her memory. They’re taking away whatever dignity she had left. They’re taking it away. And it really stinks.”
During the Republican Party’s relatively recent and disgraceful battle to use the power of the federal government to impose conservative pro-life doctrine on first a family, then a state judicial system, Roy Blunt was right there on the front line, fighting beside his conservative comrade, Tom DeLay.
And if only to give some measure of posthumous dignity back to Terri Schiavo, Missourians ought to end Roy Blunt’s legislative career this November.
*Related to DeLay’s own family decision about his father is the following exchange, which occurred at the March 18, 2005, DeLay-Blunt press conference:
Questioner: The husband in this case—Terri Schiavo’s husband—has said that she expressed a verbal desire that she not continue in this sort of state. How does the, sort of, the issue of sanctity between spouses in marriage fit into what the Congress is doing now?
DeLay: In my opinion, the sanctity of life overshadows the sanctity of marriage. I don’t know what transpired between Terri and her husband. All I know is Terri is alive, and this judge in Florida wants to pull her feeding tube and let her starve for two weeks. That is barbaric, and unless she had specifically written instructions in her own hand and with her signature, I don’t care what her husband says.
DeLay’s father did not leave any written instructions before his accident.