Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Where's the party?

Last week (Mon, Oct 27) the Washington Post had a tough editorial, Play Doctor -- and Judge, that was very critical of the recent legislation from Congress on late term (aka "partial birth") abortion, and critical of the intervention by Florida's legislature and governor in the Schiavo case. We present it below, and highlight every instance in the editorial where they identify the players as Republican:
THE SENATE LAST WEEK approved a prohibition on the procedure known to its opponents as partial-birth abortion, sending the measure to President Bush for his signature. That same day, the Florida legislature authorized the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, to order a feeding tube reinserted for Terri Schiavo, who has been in a vegetative state for 13 years. The measures are linked not only by the fact that each touches on the deeply felt religious, moral and political issues that arise at the beginning and the end of life. Perhaps precisely because the issues involved are so emotional, both laws exemplify legislators' overstepping their bounds, betraying a fundamental lack of respect for the proper role of doctors and courts.

"The legislation we just passed will save lives," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said after the vote on partial-birth abortion. This is untrue, and if Mr. Frist, a surgeon, doesn't know better, he should. The measure prohibits one form of abortion, performed in the late second trimester or third trimester of pregnancy; it is gruesome, as indeed are all abortions this late in pregnancy. But most states already bar abortions after the point of viability, unless the procedure is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother, and Congress could have done likewise. Instead, outlawing this form of abortion will only lead physicians, in the relatively few cases in which this procedure is preferred, to perform abortions by other methods that could endanger the woman's future child-bearing ability.

What is most alarming about the legislation, however, is Congress's eagerness to play doctor. When the Supreme Court narrowly stuck down a similar Nebraska law three years ago, one of the major problems it cited was that the law made no exception for maternal health, as is constitutionally required. Congress sidestepped this impediment by declaring that the procedure "is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother." Yet the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the method may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman, adding, "The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous.'' We agree. The matter is now headed back to the courts, which we trust will not tolerate the dodge of overcoming constitutional requirements by legislative decree.

The heart-breaking case of Terry Schiavo in Florida presents even an even starker case of lawmakers usurping the medical and judicial function. Ms. Schiavo, now 39, has been in a "persistent vegetative state" since suffering heart failure in 1990; as a Florida appeals court described it, she "will always remain in an unconscious, reflexive state, totally dependent upon others to feed her and care for her most private needs." Her husband, Michael Schiavo, argues that his wife would not have wanted to continue this way; her parents disagree. While there's no definitive proof, the Florida courts have consistently found clear and convincing evidence she would have wanted the feeding tube withdrawn. This was no casual conclusion but a searching, at times agonized, inquiry by the courts up and down the Florida legal system.

But as the five-year legal battle was about to come to a conclusion with the removal of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube and her impending death, the Florida legislature intervened. It passed a extraordinary and temporary law designed to apply only in Ms. Schiavo's circumstances, and the governor quickly used his new authority to order her feeding tube reinserted. Mr. Schiavo plans to challenge the law in court. Such end-of-life decisions are wrenching, especially so when, as in Ms. Schiavo's case, the family is so bitterly split and there is no medical directive from the person involved. But we have a system in which such disputes are heard in and decided by courts, not legislatures. Unless, it seems, the legislators disagree.
As you can see, they didn't use the word "Republican" anywhere, only identifying Frist as R - Tenn.   The Post failed to note that the impetus for both actions came from Republicans.


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