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WASHINGTON - House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) delivered the following statement today on the Floor of the House of Representatives:
"Mr. Speaker, this has been an extraordinarily serious debate. It has been in many ways a real debate, with each Member rising and understanding the seriousness of the issues which we consider. On the one hand, we consider the life of one young woman, a young woman struck by tragedy, shared by her family and by her friends and by her country.
"One of the striking facts of American life and American culture is the great importance that America puts on the individual: One life, one swallow that God cares for and plans for. We are here as colleagues who have almost to a person experienced the same kind of pain and trauma that the Schiavo family now faces.
"The gentlewoman from Ohio correctly stated that Terri is loved by her husband, by her parents, by her brother, by others in her family. Those of us who have been in that place know how difficult it is.
"I had not expected, as my colleagues had not expected, to be back in this House to consider this legislation. When we were called back by the Speaker, and the leader and I discussed the circumstances under which the call would come, trying to accommodate Members as best as possible, I did what I presumed many of you did. I referred to the facts that I could find.
"On the one hand, my reaction was that I am concerned that we appear to be a Congress that is flexible on the jurisdiction of courts. When we agree with the decisions that courts make, we leave them jurisdiction. When we think they may make a decision that we want, we try to give them additional jurisdiction. But when we disagree with the courts, we have had legislation on this floor in recent months to take from them jurisdiction. If we pursue that course as a country, I suggest to you that we will become a Nation of men and of politicians, not a Nation of laws.
"The fact that we are a Nation of laws has distinguished us very greatly from many other nations of the world, and we have held up that distinction as a critically important one. We now have troops arrayed in Iraq to support that principle, of the individual, of freedom, and of law.
"So I believe tonight, Mr. Speaker, that every Member will vote on behalf of Terri Schiavo tonight, but they will see their responsibility in that act differently. I believe, Mr. Speaker, they will see it honestly and sincerely, and realizing the duty they have by lifting their hand and swearing an oath to our constitution and to our country.
"So, Mr. Speaker, I did, as I said what I suppose many have done, I went to the proceedings that have occurred in the Terri Schiavo case, caused by the absence of a written directive. I have three daughters, Mr. Speaker. They are all adults. They do not live with me now, but I see them regularly and I love them dearly. And since the loss of their mother, we have become even more close. And I heard the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ginny Brown-Waite) speak, and as I heard her speak I felt a tear when she referred to Mr. Wolfson, whom I do not know, but whose report I have read.
"Mr. Wolfson was asked not by the mother and father, not by the husband, but by the State to try to determine as best he could what the medical evidence led him to conclude. He was not an advocate of the parents or of the husband. He perceived himself correctly as the advocate of Terri Schiavo. His report is a compelling one.
"The gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Ginny Brown-Waite) said that she knows Mr. Wolfson, and knows him to be a man of wisdom and deep compassion and with a sense of responsibility. Then she spoke of her own daughter and such a condition, and the discussion she had with her daughter, and I hope many of you heard her say this, that her daughter said to her that if she was in that state she would not want to be left in that state by her mother, and she said, ``No, Mom, if you really loved me, you would let me go to my rest and be with God.''
"If I thought the Florida courts had dealt with this in a superficial and uncareful way, perhaps, perhaps I would feel that we ought to interpose our view. But no fair reading of the court's decision at the lower court, no fair reading of the disposition by the District Court of the United States, in which they said in quoting Judge Altobrand of the Supreme Court of Florida, ``Not only has Mrs. Schiavo's case been given due process, but few, if any similar cases, have ever been afforded this heightened level of process.''
"This report is approximately 50 pages long that was issued by Mr. Wolfson. I urge my friend, the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Blunt) to read this. He said he had not. All of us ought to read it. This case, tragically, is not alone in the circumstances that have occurred. The report says that the Schindler family members stated that even if Theresa's family had been told of her intention, the family members, mom and dad, had been told of her intention to have artificial nutrition withdrawn, they would not do it.
"All of us can understand that, hopefully. The wrenching decision that it would be for a parent to take an action which would inevitably lead to the loss of life of their daughter. Throughout this painful and difficult trial, Mr. Wolfson went on, the family acknowledged that Teresa was in a diagnosed persistent vegetative state.
"The report seems to indicate to me that any fair reading of it would say that very careful consideration had been given. I know that there are some doctors among us who have looked at reports and perhaps looked at tapes and concluded, contrary to the doctors who have examined her, that this was not the case.
"The court, however, in an evidentiary hearing and after due consideration, said clear and convincing evidence at the time of trial supported a determination that Mrs. Schiavo would have chosen in February 2000 to withdraw the life-prolonging procedures. The fact finders in the court systems in the State of Florida concurred. Both were guided by the statutes which have been established to deal with such extraordinarily difficult human issues that we each will face, because, like birth, death comes to us all.
"To some of us it will come in a way that will not raise such wrenching questions, but some few of us will individually and with our families have to face this decision; and properly the system should be followed to protect us so that neither a husband nor a mother nor a father nor anybody else can make that decision in a manner that is not fair, that does not have due process and does not protect us as individuals.
"In reading the record, Mr. Speaker, I have concluded that the State of Florida in its wisdom provided for that process and accomplished that end. Because of that and because I care about our Federal system and because I care about our Constitution and, yes, because I care not knowing her individually but because I care for her as a child of God, I believe that this legislation should not pass.