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Facts First

Motives matter little, it's the facts of the Terri Schiavo case which dictate that Congress was right to get involved.

9:30 AM, Mar 21, 2005 • By FRED BARNES
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FOR ALL THE QUESTIONING of motives in the Terri Schiavo case, it's three simple facts that make it both wise and morally necessary to have allowed the federal courts to examine the issue. And these facts suggest that Schiavo, brain damaged since a heart attack 15 years ago, should have her feeding tube restored so she won't starve to death.

Congress acted early today to let Schiavo's parents take her case out of the sole jurisdiction of a Florida judge and have it considered by the federal courts. The Florida judge has repeatedly ruled, at the request of Terri's husband Michael, that her feeding tube should be removed. Florida appeals courts have upheld that decision. The feeding tube was removed on Friday.

Here are the three facts which undermine that decision:

* Terri Schiavo is brain damaged but not brain dead. She is not on life support. She breathes on her own. She occasionally laughs. She reacts to stimuli. She responds at times to her parents. She is not dying, though she needs a feeding tube. A doctor diagnosed her as being in a "permanent vegetative state" but other doctors have disputed that view. Indeed there are legitimate questions about her initial diagnosis.

* Schiavo's parents have offered to take full responsibility for her care, relieving her husband of any obligations whatsoever. They are willing to pay the expenses of her hospitalization and any rehabilitation program.

* Senate majority leader Bill Frist, himself a doctor, has talked to a neurologist who examined Schiavo. The neurologist told him that with proper care of a type she hasn't received there is a good chance that Schiavo's condition will improve markedly.

These facts alone warrant a second look at Schiavo's fate. And the only way to achieve that was by giving her parents the right--or "standing"--to pursue the matter before a federal judge. Florida law denies parents the right to intervene, leaving the life-or-death decision entirely in the hands of a spouse.

True, there is an arguable federalism issue: whether taking the issue out of a state's jurisdiction is constitutional. But it pales in comparison with the moral issue. Without the action of Congress to involve the federal courts, Schiavo would die. Of course, she may die anyway if the federal courts refuse to overturn the ruling of the Florida judge. But at least the case will have been reviewed.

But the facts alone are sufficient to justify saving Schiavo's life. The motives of the players are merely interesting. Does it really matter if Republicans such as Frist are out for political gain? Not much. Should Michael Schiavo have lost his right to decide his wife's fate since he now has a girlfriend (and two children by her)? Maybe. But motives don't need to be taken into account in this case. Facts do.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.