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March 18, 2005
Powerful Thing, A Subpoena (Updated!)

According to The Corner, Congressional panels have issued subpoenas to the health-care providers for Terri Schiavo -- and more importantly, one for Terri herself to testify before Congress on her state:

Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), released the following statement regarding the Committee on Government Reform's inquiry into the long-term care of incapacitated or non-ambulatory adults: "The Committee on Government Reform has initiated an inquiry into the long term care of incapacitated adults, an issue of growing importance to the federal government and federal healthcare policy. The committee's inquiry arises out of the case of Terri Schiavo, who is currently being kept alive in a hospice in Florida. Later this morning, we will issue a subpoena, which will require hospice administrators and attending physicians to preserve nutrition and hydration for Terri Schiavo to allow Congress to fully understand the procedures and practices that are currently keeping her alive. The subpoena will be joined by a Senate investigation as well.

"This inquiry should give hope to Terri, her parents and friends, and the millions of people throughout the world who are praying for her safety. This fight is not over."

If Drudge is correct and Terri herself will be subpoenaed, then it amounts to an open-ended stay for the removal of her feeding tube. If Terri is under subpoena, then the law states that nothing can be done to her which will prevent her testimony. That means the tube stays in until Congress calls her to testify.

As Wilford Brimley notes in Absence of Malice, subpoenas are powerful things indeed.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Pekin Prattles gets Dr. Cranford to reply to the NRO piece by Father Robert Johansen:

An MRI was never recommended because, in this case and other patients in a permanent vegetative state, the CT scans were more than adequate to demonstrate the extremely severe atrophy of the cerebral hemispheres, and an MRI would add nothing of significance to what we see on the CT scans. Plus the MRI is contraindicated because of the intrathalamic stimulators implanted in Terri's brain. A PET scan was never done in this case because it was never needed. The classic clinical signs on examination, the CT scans, and the flat EEG's were more than adequate to diagnose PVS to the highest degree of medical certainty ...

The Duke accepts this answer as definitive, and I'm no medical expert. However, if the two tests that so far have been refused would confirm the diagnosis, what's the harm in performing them? I had an MRI done when I had my first significant migraine (up to then, I had no idea what my brief dizziness spells were), and neither test are particularly intrusive. Why not satisfy everyone and allow them to be the last word?

UPDATE II: Congress has indeed issued subpoenas to both Terri and Michael Schiavo:

As a deadline loomed, U.S. Senate Republicans sought to keep severely brain-damaged Terri Schiavo alive Friday with an invitation to bring her to Washington, and an attorney for her parents said they hoped the move would buy them more time.

The Senate Health Committee has requested that Terri Schiavo and her husband, Michael, appear at an official committee hearing on March 28. Earlier Friday, a House committee was issuing congressional subpoenas to stop doctors from disconnecting the tube. ...

"It is a contempt of Congress to prevent or discourage someone from following the subpoena that's been issued," David Gibbs, the attorney for her parents, said. "What the U.S. Congress is saying is, 'We want to see Terri Schiavo.'"

"The family is prayerfully excited about their daughter going before the United States Congress for the whole world to see how alive she is."

He said that despite her brain damage, she would be able to travel. A statement from the office of House Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., on Friday said the purpose of the hearing was to review health care policies and practices relevant to the care of non-ambulatory people.

Frist's statement noted that it is a federal crime to harm or obstruct a person called to testify before Congress.

That should effectively block the starvation of Terri Schiavo until Congress reconvenes, giving them plenty of time for further intervention and a forum to air all of the issues and clear up any misunderstandings about Terri's condition and diagnosis. I fail to see the harm in waiting a couple of more weeks to determine what her status is and what the best and most humane course of action would be. Congress has done the right thing.

Also, as Doc Weasel notes in the comments, I misquoted Brimley. It should read, "Wonderful thing, a subpoena."

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 18, 2005 8:00 AM

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