House passes Schiavo bill
Bush signs bill into law
Relatives react to congressional action on behalf of Terri Schiavo.
DeLay announces compromise bill on Schiavo's fate.
CNN's Sanjay Gupta explains a 'persistent vegetative state.'
|PERSISTENT VEGETATIVE STATE|
This term is commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death." It can follow a coma.
People in a persistent vegetative state cannot think, speak or respond to commands and are not aware of their surroundings. They may have noncognitive functions and breathing and circulation may remain relatively intact.
They also might move spontaneously and even grimace, cry or laugh. Some people might regain some awareness after being in a persistent vegetative state, but others might remain in the state for decades.
Source: National Institutes of Health
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Following more than three hours of passionate debate on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House early Monday passed a bill on 203 to 58 vote that transfers jurisdiction of the Terri Schiavo case to a U.S. district court for a federal judge to review.
Although highly partisan, 47 Democrats joined 156 Republicans in voting for the bill.
President Bush put his signature on the bill within an hour of passage, and an attorney for Schiavo's parents raced to district court to file a lawsuit and restraining order under the new law.
"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," a statement from the president said.
"In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."
The extraordinary session had supporters, primarily Republicans, arguing that the issue was her "right to life" with a Democrat warning that passing the measure would "undermine over 200 years of jurisprudence."
The special vote required a super-majority, meaning a two-thirds of House members had to approve it -- a mark easily reached.
"We are very, very, very thankful to have crossed this bridge and we're very hopeful that the federal courts will follow the will of Congress and save my sister's life," said Suzanne Vitadamo, Schiavo's sister.
The Florida woman's feeding tube was disconnected Friday, leaving her without water and nutrients. Her parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, want the tube reinserted; her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, contends his wife would not want to live a "persistent vegetative state."
Following the vote, Bob Schindler spoke with CNN's Bob Franken a short time after visiting his daughter in the Pinellas Park, Fla. hospice where she is a patient.
"I asked her if she was ready to take a little ride, and I told her that we were going to take her for a little trip and take her outside and get her some breakfast, and that got a big smile out of her face, so help me God," he said.
"So, she seemed to be very pleased and we're pleased and we're very thankful for both the House and the Senate for passing this bill and literally saving Terri's life."
Terri Schiavo, now 41, collapsed in her home in 1990, suffering from heart failure that led to severe brain damage.
The bitter legal debate has resulted in more than a dozen state court decisions in the last seven years.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, issued a statement shortly after the vote:
"I thank the Congress for its swift action allowing Terri's parents to seek a federal review of this case. Certainly, an incapacitated person deserves at least the same protection afforded criminals sentenced to death."
The number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill dwindled late last week as they headed home for the Easter recess, but more than 260 of 435 returned in time for the vote.
The compromise bill transfers jurisdiction of the case to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to determine whether her constitutional rights or rights as a U.S. citizen are being violated.
Congress, itself, has no authority to order the feeding tube re-inserted, but the federal court could do so, if it chooses, while it reviews the case.
Schindler family attorney, David Gibbs, made a hasty exit from the hospice early Monday as he looked to exert the new legal muscle provided by Congress, saying he was headed to the district court in Tampa.
"We're going to be filing, based on the new law, a lawsuit to get Terri's tube reinserted -- so we're on our way to court."
Asked what he was going to file, Gibbs replied: "A restraining order and a lawsuit. We're ready to file under the new law."
Leading up to the vote, the issue spurred passionate debate on both sides of the issue.
"The measure of a nation's commitment to the sanctity of life is reflected in its laws and to the extent those laws honor and defend its most vulnerable citizens," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., in kicking off the House debate.
The Senate passed the bill by a voice vote earlier Sunday.
"When a person's intentions regarding whether to receive lifesaving treatment are unclear, the responsibility of a compassionate nation is to affirm that person's right to life," Sensenbrenner added. "In our public actions, we must build a culture of life that welcomes and defends all human life."
Earlier Sunday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay argued that Schiavo deserves to have her case reviewed at the federal level.
"The legal issues, I grant you, are complicated, but the moral ones are not," the Republican from Texas told reporters. "What will it hurt to have a federal judge take a fresh look at all this evidence and apply it against 15 years worth of advances in medical technology?"
After the vote, Delay expressed some sense of relief.
"I tell you I won't feel good until that tube is put back in. It's been 58 hours. I hope, I pray she lasts until that judge puts that tube back in," he said.
Delay received a hug from Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, who was waiting for him in his office.
But Democrats said Congress has no right to become involved in a sensitive family issue.
"We are members of Congress. We are not doctors. We are not medical experts. We are not bioethicists. We are members of Congress," said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
"Courts in Florida have received expert testimony from prominent neurosurgeons and neurologists throughout the country," said Robert Wexler, D-Fla. "The evidence provided by a standard of clear and convincing evidence is that it is Mrs. Schiavo's wish that she not be allowed to continue in a persistent vegetative state"
"If this bill passes, this Congress is saying that the court system of Florida will lose its long jurisdiction of history in this matter and others like it, and the jurisdiction of the federal court will be substituted," Wexler said.
"If the Florida courts had found in favor of Terri Schiavo's parents, would we be here this evening? I suspect not."
Approving the bill would "undermine over 200 years of jurisprudence," he said. "We are willing tonight to replace our judgment with the judgment of the most prominent doctors in our country and a court system which has labored extensively to reach a just result."
Terri's father, Bob Schindler said Sunday night, "All we're trying to do is get her a fair trial, and we plead with the House to pass this bill to give Terri a chance."
Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo's husband and guardian, told CNN Sunday that he was outraged at Congress' actions.
"I think that every American in this country should also be outraged that this government is trampling all over a personal family matter that has been adjudicated in the courts for seven years," he said.
According to Hamdin Baskin III, Schiavo's attorney, "The harm is the further delay of the right to privacy that Terri has already been given and that she desired and wished."
"The entire process was redone in 2003. There were no medical experts ... found to have any validity whatsoever that would support a finding of anything except a permanent vegetative state."
Sunday night, about 200 people were in the House visitors' galleries, filling just a fraction of the available seats. They are mostly curious tourists, not activists on one side of the debate or another.
Among those watching the speeches were about 160 members of a marching band from Maustan High School in Maustan, Wis., wearing bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Maustan Cheese heads."
One man said he is leading a group of seven students from the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, Calif., who happen to be Washington for an unrelated association meeting. They were watching the story on TV and decided to walk over from a nearby hotel.
CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.