Bush signs historic Schiavo bill into law

Monday, March 21, 2005 File:HouseofRepsSchiavo3.jpg

The House passed the bill by a vote of 203-58
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

President Bush approved a historic bill designed to keep brain-damaged Terri Schiavo on life-support, shortly after it was sent to him by the US House of Representatives.

"Today, I signed into law a bill that will allow federal courts to hear a claim by or on behalf of Terri Schiavo for violation of her rights relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life," said Bush's written statement.

Bush waited at the White House for the bill's arrival and signed it into law after returning early from a vacation at his Texas ranch.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 203–58 shortly after midnight in a rare Sunday session called at 9pm that night. Democrats objected to a call for unanimous consent earlier in the day. Although most members had left for the Easter break, 261 of the 435 House members returned for the vote.

Representatives debated the measure in the House from both sides.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said of previous rulings in Florida that they were "enforcing a merciless directive to deprive Terri Schiavo of her right to life." He continued that the House should "reinforce the law's commitment to justice and compassion for all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable."

Democrat Robert Wexler of Florida disagreed, saying "Tonight this Congress is about to commit a travesty. Tonight congressional leaders are poised to appoint this Congress as a judge and a jury."

The US Senate had passed the bill by unanimous consent earlier in the day.

Terri Schiavo has been on life-support for over 15 years, and is currently cared for at a Florida hospice. She is considered by physicians to be in a "permanent vegetative state", while her parents contend that she is viable and that there is hope for recovery. Schiavo's feeding tube was removed on Friday after Florida courts ruled in favor of her husband, Michael Schiavo, who acts as her legal guardian in the matter. Terri Schiavo's siblings, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, challenge this decision.

"We are very very thankful to have crossed this bridge," said Suzanne Vitadamo, Terri Schiavo's sister. "We are hopeful, we are very hopeful, that the federal courts will follow the will of Congress and save my sister's life."