Thursday, March 24, 2005


Dear MoveOn member,

On Sunday, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, the Republican congressional leaders, convened an emergency meeting of Congress to pass a bill that that interferes with the Terri Schiavo tragedy. And although in five years no other issue has prompted President Bush to return to Washington during a vacation—including the tsunami—Bush flew back from his ranch in Texas to sign it.[1]

Bush, Frist, and DeLay claim that they're acting out of concern for Ms. Schiavo. But a memo intended only for Republican Senators—uncovered by ABC News—reveals Republicans' true concern: "The pro-life base will be excited...this is a great political issue...this is a tough issue for Democrats."[2] This story also takes the heat off Tom DeLay, who is facing a number of serious ethics charges and legal scandals.[3]

Americans can have different personal opinions about what should happen to Terri Schiavo—life is precious, and this case raises some important ethical questions. But we can all agree that that's what the courts are for: to make the call in difficult circumstances. That's why Congress' interference is such an ugly and shameful incident of political grandstanding. There's no legislative purpose here, just a blatant attempt to play politics with someone's life.

We need to tell the Republican leaders in Congress that this kind of pandering and demagoguery will not stand. Will you sign our urgent petition to Congress to tell them they must stop using one person's tragedy for their own political gain, and move on to the important business facing our country?

Sign up now

Even many right-wing activists are concerned about Congress's interference in this case. GOP pollster Tony Fabrizi told the L.A. Times, "It becomes a more crystallized proof point that we are no longer the party of smaller government. We have become a party of 'It doesn't matter what size the government is as long as it is imposing our set of values.'"[4]

The New York Times talked to David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, a conservative research organization, who said, "When a case like this has been heard by 19 judges in six courts and it's been appealed to the Supreme Court three times, the process has worked even if it hasn't given the result that the social conservatives want. For Congress to step in really is a violation of federalism."[5]

Medical ethicists are also outraged at the armchair diagnoses of Republican doctors in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As the Associated Press reported:

"It's disturbing that doctors who would never venture a comment about the health of anybody from a homemade video are sitting on the floor of Congress making declarations," said Art Caplan, chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. "My own impression, from a distance, is that they've subverted what they know to be good medicine for the aim of achieving a political goal."[6]

And reporters are now raising questions about a right-to-die law Bush signed as Texas governor, contradicting his position in the Schiavo case. Just last week, the law was applied for the first time, allowing doctors to remove a critically ill infant from life support against his mother's wishes. According to the Houston Chronicle, this marks the first time in American history that courts allowed a pediatric patient to die against the wishes of their parent.[7] As the Knight Ridder

News service reports:

"The mother down in Texas must be reading the Schiavo case and scratching her head," said Dr. Howard Brody, the director of Michigan State University's Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences. "This does appear to be a contradiction." Brody said that, in taking up the Schiavo case, Bush and Congress had shattered a body of bioethics law and practice."[8]

It's time to speak up about this kind of political posturing, and ask Congress to get back to work. Can you sign our petition to Republican leaders in Congress to stop grandstanding on the Schiavo tragedy?

Sign up now

A large majority of the American public agree that Congress was wrong to interfere in the Schiavo case, and less than a quarter believe Congress acted out of real concern about Schiavo's life, according to an ABC poll.[9] And the nation's editorial boards agree. Check out this sampling from many of the nation's papers, compiled by the National Journal's Hotline:

"The U.S. legal system is not supposed to be one of legislative 'do-overs... Lawmakers may believe that they acted this weekend to save a life, but they also took a step that diminishes the rule of law" (Washington Post, 3/22).

"When the Founders wrote the Constitution, they devoted the largest section to spelling out the powers of Congress. Nowhere did they include the right to play doctor. Terri Schiavo's story is tragic enough without political malpractice" (USA Today, 3/22).

"The Bush administration and the current Congressional leadership like to wax eloquent about states' rights. But they dropped those principles in their rush to stampede over the Florida courts and Legislature...It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic" (New York Times, 3/22).

"Congress' unwarranted and brash effort to seize judicial power in the case of Terri Schiavo is shameful truly a low point in its recent history" (Kennebec Journal, 3/22).

"What has happened here is that the GOP, famously the party favoring limited government intervention into people's personal lives, has inserted the federal government squarely in the middle of an incredibly personal medical issue. And they've done it all in the name of making sure that some of their core voters stay with them" (Athens Banner-Herald, 3/22).

"Terri Schiavo has the right to die ... Congress and President Bush should be ashamed for prolonging the suffering and trying to legislate what is clearly the authority of the courts to adjudicate" (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 3/22).

"Coming at a time when crucial health care services are being slashed, it is particularly upsetting to see this kind of expensive grandstanding on the part of congressional Republicans over one high-profile case. This is not compassion: This is cold-blooded political calculation" (Charleston Gazette, 3/22).

"One by one, the bedrock conservative convictions of the national Republican Party are giving way...yielding to the demands of a raucous religious right that has become the Republicans' most reliable electoral base" (Trenton Times, 3/22).

"Washington's empathy for Schiavo centers on vying for political points, not merely concern for one family's personal, medical plight. That makes this unwise intervention by elected officials even more distasteful" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/22).

"To have the legislative and executive branches of the federal government mobilize on a Sunday as fast as if we'd declared war in order to intervene in a family's medical dispute is, frankly, frightening. It's an unprecedented intrusion by the highest echelons of federal power into a private hospital room. It's dangerous. And more than a little Orwellian" (Augusta Chronicle, 3/22).

Let's tell Tom DeLay and Bill Frist to get back to business. Please join us by signing the petition at the link below, and sending this message on to your friends and family.

Sign up now

Together, we can restore some common sense to a Congress that's out of control.

--Eli Pariser and the whole MoveOn PAC Team
March 23rd, 2005

1. Schiavo case exposes political divide in U.S., Reuters AlertNet
2. GOP Talking Points on Terri Schiavo, ABC News
ABC News
3. DeLay Under Fire Over Ethics, Associated Press
4. Some in GOP Fear Effort May Alienate Voters, L.A. Times
5. G.O.P. Right Is Splintered on Schiavo Intervention, New York Times
New York Times
6. Physicians in Congress criticized, Associated Press
7. Baby dies after hospital removes breathing tube, Houston Chronicle
8. Law Bush signed prompts cries of hypocrisy, Knight Ridder Newspapers
9. ABC News poll
Polling Report

Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.