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Feeding tube case heads to US court Congress votes to let judge decide; Bush endorses bill

Page 2 of 2 -- Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, lobbied Democratic congressional members at the Capitol on his sister's behalf, distributing an audio recording he said proved that his sister is trying to speak. President Bush cut short a scheduled vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, so he could be at the White House as soon as Congress takes final action.

''His view is that our society and our laws and our courts, in a case like this, ought to err on the side of life," Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, said aboard Air Force One.

On one level, the extraordinary scene playing out in Washington, Florida, and elsewhere was about a single woman whose family has long clashed about her wishes for medical care. Schiavo suffered severe brain damage after a heart stoppage in 1990, and her nutritional tube was removed and replaced twice previously -- in 2001 and 2003 -- amid judicial and political wrangling.

But the case also has broader implications for long-running debates about euthanasia and abortion, with Republicans characterizing their support for her case as a ''right-to-life" issue. A one-page, unsigned memo circulated among Senate Republicans over the weekend characterized it as a ''a great political issue" that has the potential to energize the party's ''pro-life base."

Publicly, Republicans sought to distance themselves from such sentiments yesterday, saying they were acting only to help a defenseless woman.

''I have never seen the memo, I did not authorize the memo, and I condemn the content of the memo," said Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee. ''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."

Schiavo's husband has testified in court that she told him that she did not want to be kept alive artificially. Court rulings have sided with Michael Schiavo, but her parents maintain that her husband wants her to die so he can marry another woman. The parents say she continues to respond to their presence, and they want her kept alive via a feeding tube.

The bill, which is narrowly written to apply only to Schiavo, would give a federal district court in Florida the power to review all aspects of her case.

Frist said that review would include fresh examination of her medical condition, the possibility of her being rehabilitated, and the statement her husband said she made communicating a desire not to be kept alive on a feeding tube.

If the bill becomes law, a federal judge would almost certainly order the feeding tube reinserted while that review occurs. It does not, however, guarantee that federal courts would come to a different conclusion than state courts in Florida regarding the appropriate path.

Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com. 

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