Frist called the measure "a unique bill" that "should not serve as a precedent for future legislation." Some Democrats objected to an earlier, broader version that might have applied to many cases of incapacitated patients.
Michael Schiavo, who is his wife's legal guardian, has said that she has no hope of recovery and that, based on their conversations before her heart attack, she would not want to continue living as she is now. Florida courts have repeatedly sided with him, and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals of those rulings. He said on CNN this morning that if the federal courts take up the case, he will continue to press to allow her to die.
Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, meets with reporters at the Capitol. He said he came to Capitol Hill "to help save my sister's life."
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
The Battle for Schiavo|
A look at the long legal battle over whether Floridian Terri Schiavo, 41, may be taken off life support.
Feb. 1990: Schiavo suffers brain damage from heart failure.
Feb. 2000: Circuit Judge George W. Greer rules that Schiavos feeding tube may be removed, as requested by
April 2001: The feeding tube is removed. Two days later, Circuit Judge Frank Quesada orders doctors to
June 2003: The 2nd District Court of Appeal upholds Greers ruling to remove the tube.
Oct.: Gov. Jeb Bush files a federal court brief urging that Schiavo be kept alive.
He is denied.
Doctors remove the feeding tube.
The state legislature passes a bill, called "Terris Law," allowing Bush to intervene. He orders the feeding tube
Sept. 2004: Floridas Supreme Court rules that Terris Law is unconstitutional.
Jan. 2005: The U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear the governors appeal.
Feb.: Greer grants an emergency stay blocking the removal of Schiavos feeding tube. He later sets March 18
as the day the tube may be removed.
Mar. 16: House passes legislation to try to block efforts to let Schiavo die.
Mar. 17: Senate passes separate legislation.
Mar. 18: House committee subpoenas Schiavo and others. Florida judge blocks the subpoenas; U.S. Supreme
Court lets that ruling stand. Feeding tube is removed.
Mar. 20: Senate passes legislation giving federal courts jurisdiction in the case.
Mar. 21: House passes the same bill, sending it to President Bush for his signature.
SOURCES: Associated Press, staff reports
Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings have fought to keep her alive, drawing many right-to-life activists and other political groups to their side. In his Senate speech yesterday, Frist denounced an unsigned memo circulated to Republican lawmakers over the weekend calling the Schiavo case "a great political issue."
Frist said he had not seen the memo, adding: "I condemn the content of the memo and reaffirm that the interest in this case by myself, and the many members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle, is to assure that Mrs. Schiavo has another chance at life."
GOP lawmakers have said Terri Schiavo's failure to draft a "living will" makes it impossible to know her wishes, and therefore it is essential that the government help her stay alive. Frist said the bill will allow Schiavo's parents to file a federal claim on her behalf "for alleged violations of constitutional rights or federal laws relating to the withholding of food, water or medical treatment necessary to sustain life."
The legislation will put a federal court in direct conflict with Florida courts, Senate aides acknowledged, a move subject to possible legal challenges whose duration and outcome is hard to predict. Republicans have urged the Florida legislature to overcome its impasse on the issue and try to override the state court's rulings, which could make federal intervention unneeded.
Schiavo's feeding tube was temporarily removed twice before under various legal maneuvers. Doctors say she probably will die from dehydration in about two weeks if the tube is not reinserted.
Michael and Terri Schiavo won a $700,000 malpractice lawsuit after her heart attack 15 years ago, but his lawyers say most of the money has been spent on health care and legal costs. Medicaid pays for her medication and Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., provides her care for free, the lawyers say.
Congress had largely steered clear of the Schiavo case until last week, when appeals to Florida courts were exhausted and the state's GOP-controlled legislature appeared unlikely to step in. Although numerous lawmakers, especially Democrats, expressed unease over interfering with a state court's rulings and Michael Schiavo's assertion that he knows his brain-damaged wife's desires, they generally have been quieter than the conservative activists and right-to-life groups campaigning vociferously to keep Schiavo alive.
A single senator could have postponed yesterday's action but none did so, even though some criticized Congress's actions. "I think it's unwise for Congress to intervene in a very deeply personal matter such as this," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said on CNN's "Late Edition."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), traveling in the Middle East, said in a statement: "Congressional leaders have no business substituting their judgment for that of multiple state courts that have extensively considered the issues in this intensely personal family matter. The actions of the majority in attempting to pass constitutionally dubious legislation are highly irregular and an improper use of legislative authority."
Congressional GOP leaders were unapologetic for intervening in a way that is likely to raise constitutional separation-of-powers questions and that is at odds with traditional Republican calls for honoring marital privilege and limiting the role of federal courts. "Every hour is terribly important to Terri Schiavo," DeLay said.
House GOP leaders had hoped to vote yesterday afternoon. But they were operating under rules that allowed even one objection to prevent approval of the bill before today. They spent much of the afternoon and evening scrambling to summon 218 colleagues -- the minimum for a quorum -- in order to pass the bill in the earliest moments of today. Congress had begun a two-week recess, and many lawmakers were traveling overseas or domestically. A two-thirds majority was required to pass the bill because it was on a "suspension calendar," usually reserved for non-controversial matters.
The three-hour House debate, however, was anything but uncontroversial. Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) accused the Florida courts of "enforcing a merciless directive." He invoked the civil rights movement and said it "required federal judicial action" to right the wrongs of southern courts.