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January 31, 2006

Frist's Remarks on Legislation Passed to Help Terri Schiavo

Topics: Legislative Action Items

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was one of the leading proponents of last minute legislation designed to stop Terri Schiavo's death by starvation/dehydration. In an interview on Sunday's Meet the Press, Frist defended his comments prior to Terri's death but suggested that Americans don't want the government involved in end-of-life decisions.

Frist rightly noted that congressional attention was important, "because once you give somebody that diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, you can kill [them]." And, he showed insight beyond media propaganda by explaining, "Also the pathologic diagnosis persistent vegetative state, it cannot be--it is not an anatomic diagnosis. It is a clinical diagnosis."

From MSNBC, here is the transcript of the relevant section:

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned that you are a physician. Terri Schiavo. You went to the Senate floor March 17, 2005 and said this, "Persistent vegetative state which is what the court has ruled. I say that, I question it, and I question it based on a review of video footage which I spent about an hour or so looking at last night in my office here in the Capitol. And that footage, to me, depicted something very different than persistent vegetative state." As you know, the autopsy has now come out. This is how it was reported in the paper. "During Terri Schiavo's final days, when her fervent supporters said she was alert, responsive and trying to speak, she was massively and irreversibly brain-damaged, blind and oblivious to what surrounded her, a medical examiner's findings revealed." Which led The New York Times to say, "The autopsy results released should embarrass all the opportunistic politicians and agenda-driven agitators who meddled in Terri Schiavo's right-to-die case. ...The medical examiners found Ms. Schiavo's brain 'profoundly atrophied,' only half the normal size, and said that 'No amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons.' ...Those conclusions underscore how shallow and cynical were the judgments-from-afar by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, who is a doctor..."

SEN. FRIST: Mm-hmm. You know, those comments do bother me because I do regard as my ultimate responsibility, not just as a heart surgeon, which I am, and a heart and lung doctor taking care of people, but also as somebody who took an oath to our Constitution as a United States Senator to protect life. I did feel it was important, because once you give somebody that diagnosis of persistent vegetative state, you can kill her. You can kill somebody whose parents say, "Don't kill her," who is--doesn't have a terminal illness, is not on a ventilator, whose all blood relatives say, "Don't kill her, don't take her away." All blood relatives said that. Before you condemn her to death, you need to make sure that diagnosis is right.

Now, the video footage that I looked at, wasn't what you see on TV, it was court-appointed video by a board certified neurologist who came to the conclusion that she was not in a persistent vegetative state. That's enough of a question to raise it before you condemn an innocent person--whose parents said, "Don't kill her"--to death.

And so what we did in the Senate, in a bipartisan way, is said, "Let's just have one more review." We passed that legislation. It got the review, and ultimately she died, and I accept the outcome. I don't agree with the moral sense of it for me.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, you will acknowledge that people who looked at this believed, suggested that you were trying to diagnose from your office, that the Senate was kept in session over the weekend. The president flew back from his ranch. For something that happens a thousand times a day, in terms of removing tubes, and...

SEN. FRIST: No, you don't know...

MR. RUSSERT: Let me finish.

SEN. FRIST: That's not...

MR. RUSSERT: Let me finish.

SEN. FRIST: Yeah. Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: And that this was used in a way to exploit politics and to play to the conservative base in the Republican Party.

SEN. FRIST: You know, you know, first of all, let me reject the earlier thing. Also the pathologic diagnosis persistent vegetative state, it cannot be--it is not an anatomic diagnosis. It is a clinical diagnosis. So all of that about The New York Times...

MR. RUSSERT: But do you regret...

SEN. FRIST: I mean, but...

MR. RUSSERT: Do you regret going to the floor of the Senate and saying, "I watched the videotape and that's not a persistent vegetative state."

SEN. FRIST: No, I don't. I'm a physician. I was watching a board-certified neurologist...

MR. RUSSERT: Were you wrong?

SEN. FRIST: In terms of what? In terms of that--no. To raise the question in order to pass a law that says, "Let's give it more review"? No.

MR. RUSSERT: Were you wrong in your diagnosis?

SEN. FRIST: I didn't make the diagnosis. I raised the question of whether or not she's in a persistent vegetative state. If I had been there, I would have said, "Let's use technology today, like spectrometry, like PET scans to get the diagnosis right," because the only reason you can remove that tube--the other thing...

MR. RUSSERT: No regrets?

SEN. FRIST: Well, I'll tell you what I learned from it, which is obvious, is that the American people don't want you involved in these decisions. But I will say again as a physician, but as a senator, when you're taking innocent life with parents who want that life preserved, you got to make sure. And therefore stepping in and saying, "Let's take one more review." That's what we did.

LifeNews has more.

Posted by tim at January 31, 2006 11:14 AM

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