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The Fight For Terri Schiavo

Aired March 20, 2005 - 22:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A highly unusual night here in the nation's capitol, where the lights are burning under the dome, as the House of Representatives has convened at 9:00 to debate for three hours whether the case of Terri Schiavo should go to the federal courts. In other words, whether the Florida courts - what the Florida courts have ruled to have her feeding tube withdrawn, whether that should be considered by a different court.
We're going to be dipping in and out of the debate on the floor. We've heard from Democrats. We've heard from Republicans. We're going to be listening to more members as the night goes on. They are scheduled to take a vote right after midnight Eastern time.

My colleague, Carol Lin, is in Atlanta - Carol?

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks very much, Judy.

We have heard a lot obviously from the House of Representatives as the debate goes forward. Want to take a look at some of the legal issues.

You heard earlier from Michael Schiavo and his anger over the congressional action that's taking place. I want to talk now with his attorney. Hamden Baskin represents Michael Schiavo in this very emotional case. And he joins me now from Tampa, Florida.

Mr. Baskin, what do you think your legal options are if this bill passes the House of Representatives, becomes law by the president's signature?

HAMDEN BASKIN III, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S ATTORNEY: Well, the options are going to be laid out in the terms of the bill itself. It would be my understanding that the Schindlers will have the opportunity, but not the requirement. But I think we can assume they will go ahead and file a petition pursuant to the legislation.

And on its face, we will take a look at the constitutionality of it. It would appear to us that the bill could be declared unconstitutional right on its face by a federal district judge for many of the reasons that your experts tonight have mentioned.

It is in our opinion an absolute attack on the notion that we have separation of powers between the co-equal branches of government. This is a very specific bill to go beyond a general bill. And to pass a law like this strictly designed to overrule the Florida courts and all of the years of judicial work on this case, we think will be very impressive to the district judge. And... LIN: Do you...

BASKIN: ...we'll attack it.

LIN: Do you expect - I mean, which judge do you expect this is going to go to?

BASKIN: Well, we're reasonably sure it will go to the middle district of Tampa. And that's a federal district. The clerk of court would normally assign the judge on a random basis, which is again, part of the integrity of our legal system. And so, we don't know.

Judge Moody, a very fine judge, had handled the habeas action Friday. Judge Lazere (ph) had been involved on two occasions over the years, as you all know. But we don't know which judge will be assigned. So we'll have to look forward to it, but they're all very fine judges over in our middle district. And we'll be pleased to take our case to any of them.

LIN: Mr. Baskin, I mean clearly it has boiled down to you as the attorney representing the legal guardian and the husband to a legal matter. But to most of America, this is an emotional one. People who don't know Terri Schiavo, but see the videotape, and are not fully convinced that she is not 100 - or at least even, you know, 5 percent aware of what's going on. Why not go ahead and allow her case to be heard in federal court? Why not give it more time, have full consideration? What is the human harm in that, never mind the legal obligation here. What is the human harm in that?

BASKIN: Well, there's a couple of important points here. One, the harm is the further delay of the right to privacy that Terri has already been given and that she desired and wished. The issue of her condition, which is a permanent vegetative state, was litigated in 2000.

Eventually, that full week trial went up to the appellate court. And after a good long while, they issued an opinion and asked for re- examination on a number of issues.

So the entire process was redone in 2003. There were no medical experts that the - that Judge Greer found to have any validity whatsoever, that would support a finding of anything except a permanent vegetative state.

LIN: But wait a second, as I understand it, at one stage in this investigation, three out of five court appointed neurologists did say - three out of five said that she was in a persistent vegetative state, which left two that were not conclusive in that.

BASKIN: Well, but Judge Greer found that the doctors that did not so find - that their findings were not credible. And Dr. Wilson, who was appointed as a guardian ad litum (ph), again reviewed all of that evidence. And his finding as well found that the evidence that she was in a permanent vegetative state was overwhelming.

And so, this long battle has continued. To go back through all of this process again would be an abomination. It would be a further denial to grant Terri her wishes.

LIN: Mr. Baskin, Michael Schiavo in some respects has moved on in his life. I mean, he has a full relationship with another woman. They have two children. For Michael Schiavo to stand before the cameras, as angry as he was, and declare that he loves his wife, while the Schindlers are making the claim that he has a conflict of interest in this case, and that is something that a federal judge should consider here. It is not necessarily in Michael Schiavo's best interest that Terri Schiavo be kept alive.

I mean, doesn't this relationship with this other woman, and the fact that he has moved on in his life in that way, doesn't that substantiate the Schindlers claims?

BASKIN: Well, let's again back up. That issue was brought to the state courts. That is an absolute state law issue. You will need to tell me if you see or discern a federal rights issue and a matter of potential conflict of interest.

That issue was litigated in state court. And in fact, you also have to realize that if Terri - if Michael Schiavo was removed as guardian, the state court action continues. This is not Michael Schiavo's doing. The state court found what Terri's wishes were and adjudicated her right to privacy. And regardless of who the guardian is, the state court action has to be carried out.

LIN: Hamden Baskin, representing Michael Schiavo.

BASKIN: Thank you.

LIN: Thank you very much for being with us tonight.

BASKIN: My pleasure.

LIN: Judy, back to you in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Carol, just to remind our audience, we are covering the House of Representatives, which is debating a bill passed by the United States Senate earlier today. A unique bill which is addressed only to the case, the individual case of Terri Schiavo. She is the 41-year old Florida woman, brain damaged for the last 15 years. The testimony or rather the debate on the floor has gone back and forth from Democrats to Republicans. We dipped in a little bit.

Let's go now to our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns, for a sense of how the debate is going.

Joe, there's no doubt how this is going to turn out, is there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that's right, Judy. You know, following on to what you just said, this is not the first time, even this week, that the House of Representatives has debated Terri Schiavo. In fact, they debated on Wednesday a much broader bill, a much broadly worded bill that really would have given a number of rights to people essentially in the same class or group of people as Terri Schiavo. This new bill that was worked on with the help of the Senate is much more narrowly written. It's defined directly at Terri Schiavo and her family specifically, doesn't involve some other people.

Now talking about tonight's debate, Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona was out there just a little while ago essentially making the case that the Congress has a historical obligation to look at the Schiavo case.


REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: Thomas Jefferson said the care of human life and its happiness, and not its destruction, is the chief and only object of good government.

Mr. Speaker, protecting the lives of our innocent citizens and their constitutional rights is why we are all here. The phrase in the 14th Amendment capsulizes our entire constitution. It says "no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."


JOHNS: Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a Democrat also out on the floor in this debate tonight, making the case that this legislation attacks the separation of powers.


REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ...There are people who believe in what is described as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) life, that nothing that terminates a life is ever justified. In fact, people said well if she had said so, but many of those who hold that don't think you have a right to say that.

There are others of us who believe, I must tell you from what I've read, if I were a member of the Schiavo family, if a member of my family were involved, I would have made the same decision. But I haven't made the decision. I have no right to make that decision. And I have no information for it.


JOHNS: So Judy, to answer to the question you asked me at the top, is this vote a foregone conclusion, the big question really is whether the Republicans are able to get enough people here to have a vote. Of course, the question is 217 members. They sent out the word to try to get a lot of people to come back here. The question is how long, of course, that will take, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe, we are going to go right to the floor. We're going to listen to Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.

REP. CHRIS SMITH, NEW JERSEY: ...vegetative state. Let me also point out to my colleagues, Dr. William Hamisfar (ph), an M.D., board certified neurologist from Clearwater, Florida has testified. And he has done so as recently as March 6 of this year. And he has said, "Ms. Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state." He goes on to point out that she could benefit, and I would ask (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this full statement be made a part of the record, she could benefit from the interventions that are available right now as we meet. She could be getting intervention, medical and otherwise, that would make her situation all that much better.

All of that has been denied to her. She has sat in a hospice, denied these basic medical provisions and procedures that could enhance her life.

I would hope that we would vote for this legislation. And I yield back the balance of my time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman yields back the balance of his time. And without objection...

WOODRUFF: Our congressional correspondent Joe Johns. Joe, I want to bring you back in. Because of House rules, we're not permitted to show much more of the House floor. Tell us, how many members of the 435, how many of them are there?

JOHNS: Well, my colleague Ted Barrett, he is the producer over in the House side, said he saw only a handful of members about eight, you know, a little bit more than half a dozen on each side in the chamber.

Of course, it's important to note that there can be a lot of other members of Congress on Capitol Hill, in their offices, watching this debate on television. It's difficult to know how many people are here prepared to vote and how many more people will be arriving by the time we reach the midnight hour, Judy.

WOODRUFF: So Joe, the leadership, the Republican and Democratic leadership, they don't really have a headcount at this point?

JOHNS: No. I have talked to Democrats, who have told me don't expect much more than 10 Democrats to show up and actually try to vote on this. That was a couple hours ago. Republicans have been telling me that they have to get the majority of the people here in order to vote, to make that 217 number.

The other thing that's important to realize is they need a two- thirds majority vote in order to pass the bill as it is under the procedures that apply to this session right here in the House of Representatives.

So they have to have 217. And they have to make sure that they have enough votes to reach that two-thirds in order to get this down to the president's desk quickly.

WOODRUFF: Well, it sounds like in order to get up to that 217, the Republicans have to be counting on a lot of members to be in their offices or to be somewhere close by in Washington for that vote that's going to take place. The little under two hours from now, just after midnight.

All right, Joe, we're going to be coming back to you throughout the time we are watching this debate until midnight.

With me here in the studio in Washington is our political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, you know, some have looked at this debate and talked about whether it's appropriate or not from a constitutional, a legislative standpoint. What about the politics of this? This really extraordinary move by Republicans to bring this issue up for a vote?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's clearly a lot of pressure from religious conservatives, some of whom have gone to Florida to make their presence known, to demonstrate in favor of re- insertion of the tube, and to argue their case for culture of life, along with the president and some of the Republican leaders.

There's not a lot of polling data about how the larger American community feels, but we did locate one poll, taken earlier this month by FOX News, which asked people if you were Terri Schiavo's guardian, would you remove the feeding tube or would you keep the feeding tube inserted?

And you'll see here that by better than two to one, the American public as a whole, and this is registered voters polled nationwide, by better than two to one, they say Terri Schiavo's guardian should remove the feeding tube rather than keep it.

The poll then asked if you were in Terri Schiavo's place, what would you want your guardian to do? And there, as you see, by better than five to one, approximately five to one, the public says that they believe she would want the feeding tube removed.

What does this say? This says that what is happening on Congress, the move to pass this law, is not a response to the larger public opinion. It's a response to an intensely committed and passionate minority.

WOODRUFF: Now Bill, just to be clear, those questions, did they tell the people who were being polled that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, unlikely or that it's impossible that she will ever - has a chance to...

SCHNEIDER: Let me read the question that was asked at FOX News. "Terri Schiavo has been in a so-called persistent vegetative state since 1990. Terri's husband said his wife would rather die than to be kept alive artificially, and wants her feeding tube removed. Terri's parents believe she could still recover and want the feeding tube to remain. If you were Terri's guardian, what would you do? Would you remove the feeding tube or would you keep the feeding tube inserted?"

And the answer was by better than two to one, remove the feeding tube.

WOODRUFF: So people were given a pretty clear, concise, but clear picture of what both arguments are?

SCHNEIDER: They were told that version of both arguments, which I think is a balanced argument. And they clearly came out on one side of it, which is that they thought the feeding tube should be removed.

WOODRUFF: Bill, very quickly, the Senate voted earlier today to pass this legislation. The House will be voting at midnight. There's some question about whether they're going to be able to get the 217 votes.

If they convene and they can't get those votes, what's the consequence of that?

SCHNEIDER: I'm not sure they'll be dramatic political consequence. A lot of religious conservatives may be angry about it. They may be angry at some Republicans who didn't show up. They may be - they will be angry at Democrats for not participating.

The Democrats are undertaking a kind of passive resistance to this. They're not actively opposing it, but the Democratic leadership said we're not going to tell people they have to show up. We're just going to leave it up to them. And the vote will be a vote of conscience.

The political consequences really depend on whether the activated minority on this issue, who care passionately, are going to remember this over a year from now, a year and a half from now, at the polls. They're going to sustain that anger and are going to come after those Republicans and Democrats who didn't show up.

WOODRUFF: And they're the ones with the motivation.


WOODRUFF: In all of this. Bill Schneider, talking about the need to get 217 votes for that vote, which will take place a little after - just after midnight Eastern time.

As of now, we heard our Joe Johns quoting our producer Ted Barrett, saying that he - right now just sees a handful of members of Congress on either side.

But what we don't know is whether other members are in there offices, or whether they're elsewhere in Washington. And they plan to show up in the chamber to cast a vote at midnight.

Carol, back to you in Atlanta.

LIN: All right. Judy, we are covering this complete coverage here at CNN. We are live on Capitol Hill, the White House out of Washington, and the world headquarters as well as where Terri Schiavo lies tonight. And that's where we find Bob Franken.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Carol, the family, the blood relatives of Terri Schiavo, are hoping that they get what they want from Congress. And they're planning their next moves. We'll report in a moment on a long night ahead.


LIN: You are looking at a live picture of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where right now, history is being made. The U.S. House of Representatives in a rare session on this Palm Sunday, an extraordinary event as you're watching members debate compromise legislation, a bill that would in effect allow federal courts to review the case of a 41-year old woman, Terri Schiavo, who's been living in a persistent vegetative state.

Her family, trying to get her case heard in court, after her feeding tube was disconnected. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, insisting that that is what Terri Schiavo would have wanted, not living in this state and condition.

We are monitoring events throughout the night. The vote expected to take place in an hour - actually in a couple of hours, about an hour and 40 minutes from now, at one minute past midnight.

We are staying live throughout, with all the expertise and our live presence from Capitol Hill to the White House, from our Washington bureau, to here at the world headquarters, to the hospice where Terri Schiavo is now lying right now.

Much more coverage. In fact, we're going to go to Bob Franken, who is standing by in Pinellas Park.

Bob, what so far has been the reaction down there, as so many prayer vigils have been taking place outside of the hospice?

FRANKEN: Well, there's been, from the beginning, just a small crowd of people. There has been an effort to de-emphasize any loud noisy protests. A tactical decision was made that this had to be conducted with dignity, to try to have a positive influence on Congress.

The positive influence to pass the legislation that these group of activists and the Schindler family, this is the parents and blood relatives of Terri Schiavo, the legislation that they want passed, which is being considered right now by the House of Representatives.

There's a kind of an anxious awaiting. Everybody here is aware that things can go very, very quickly, very wrong in the legislative process.

But at the same time, the lawyer for the family, is prepared to immediately get the documents that would be rushed to him this evening. He would file them in two courts, in the middle district court here, which is the federal district, which is based in Tampa. But also in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The reason for that is that there is a pending case involving Terri Schiavo, that has already reached that level, after being unsuccessful in the middle district. Now when we had our conversation, I asked what would be so different about going to federal court. His claim, she had never - Terri Schiavo had never gotten a fair hearing in the state court that has been so criticized. And he expected that a federal court would be able to provide the proper hearing, the due process questions, the type of thing.

He says the federal court would be able to rule on constitutional issues. The constitutional issue that is cited repeatedly by the lawyer and the activists out here is a right to life.

So all of that is done in the hope that this evening, sometime overnight, a judge would issue an order, which would require that the feeding tube would be reconnected. That is not a certainty, but the lawyers seem to think that because there would be so many complicated issues that would take so time to hash out by the court, that it would be prudent for a judge, very prudent for a judge, to have the court connect it, so these issues could be hashed out while she was returned to nutrition - Carol?

LIN: All right. Thanks very much, Bob, for covering the events down there in Pinellas Park, outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo was disconnected from her feeding tube about 2.5 days ago, Friday afternoon.

Judy, back to up to you in Washington. Clearly, the events very emotional down there in Pinellas Park.

WOODRUFF: They are, Carol. Thank you. We want to bring now a bioethicist. Her name is Alta Charo. She is at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Ms. Charo, you have the family of the father and the brother of Terri Schiavo and the - many Republicans in the Congress saying it's cruel to withdraw this feeding tube. And it should be put back in.

On the other hand, you have the husband of Terri Schiavo and many others, saying it's cruel to prolong her life under these circumstances. Which one is correct?

ALTA CHARO, BIOETHICIST, U. OF WISCONSIN: Well, Terri Schiavo is in persistent vegetative state. All of the credible neurologists have agreed. And she's been in that state for 15 years.

People need to understand, there's nobody there to feel pain. She can't suffer. She can't suffer if she's kept alive. She can't suffer if she's allowed to die. Starvation isn't painful, because she can't experience reality any longer.

The people experiencing pain are her husband, her parents, and the entire American public.

WOODRUFF: How do you explain - I mean, you must have looked at cases similar to this over the years - what is to be done, though, when you have the husband and the doctors that he's relied on, saying that she is, as you say, in a persistent vegetative state? But then you have the family saying there's hope for recovery?

CHARO: Well, one needs to remember that first, she was in this condition for eight years before the proceedings began. Then there have been seven years worth of court hearings to ask exactly that question.

And judge after judge has concluded that the neurologists that diagnose persistent vegetative state are correct. And in fact, if you look at the judicial opinion from Florida, the experts that were brought in that claimed that she was not, were found not to be credible, not to be sufficiently expert, or not to be basing their diagnosis on the correct facts.

I mean, it's very important that we actually agree on the reality of this situation. CAT scans show that there's no upper brain left. This poor woman left us 15 years ago. And what we're deciding now is whether or not sheer biological existence with no psychological existence needs to be kept alive at all costs or if people can choose to discontinue that kind of pointless biological existence if they said that's what they want.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you to repeat what you just said. What is it that the CAT scans, the CT scans, show?

CHARO: The CAT scans, if I understand it, show that much of the upper brain, the cortex where all of the ability to think, and feel, and experience pain, and experience a sense of self, much of that is destroyed.

WOODRUFF: And then, how do you explain the family saying something different?

CHARO: Because this is a very difficult condition for most people. The lower part of the brain is still functioning. And so, some automatic functions of the body are continuing. It's the lower part of the brain that will keep the heart beating, keep the lungs expanding and contracting. The body is pink and warm.

There are even sleep and wake cycles. And the body will actually move. Hands can go out and then contract. Anybody who's standing next to a warm breathing body, that is doing these things, would find it very hard emotionally to accept that there is no person within.

But the reality is that's all lower brain function. And it does not suggest the presence of a person within that body.

WOODRUFF: The Congress has written this - has rewritten this legislation now. They've tried to come up with a compromise that applies only to the case of Terri Schiavo.

If this were to pass, however, would it have an effect on the tens or thousands of other cases out there, where you have a disagreement in a family over what to do?

CHARO: I think it's going to have a profound effect. One of the reasons we're here today is because Florida law did something very merciful. It said that persons wishes do not have to be in writing. A person can simply explain what she wants to her family members. And that evidence is good enough.

And I say it's merciful, because other people in different conditions, people with advanced dementia, who really can experience the world, but can't enjoy it, people who can feel pain, those people, if they are in one of these long feudal situations, but are in pain, often would prefer to be allowed to die.

But states that don't allow anything but written documents frequently find these people left no piece of paper. New York has been like that for many years. I think state after state, looking at the Florida situation, are going to consider legislation that requires people write their wishes down on paper.

And for every person who does it, there's the possibility that they'll be condemned to years of tortuous pain if they wind up in one of these demented conditions.

So there are tremendous consequences to what's going on here. Not so much to Terri Schiavo. Certainly to her family, but also throughout the American public and the people who are alive today.

WOODRUFF: Alta Charo is a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She is a bioethicist. And we thank you very much for talking with us tonight, Ms. Charo. We appreciate it.

CHARO: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Our coverage of the very special session of Congress tonight. Unusual on a Sunday night for Congress to be in session. The House of Representatives debating a singular piece of legislation that would have the federal courts take over the consideration of what should happen to Terri Schiavo.

Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is CNN's medical consultant.

I want to bring you back in, Sanjay, because I keep coming back to the dispute between the doctors, who the courts have depended on to make these decisions over the years, who have said Terri Schiavo's in a persistent vegetative state, and then the comments by her father and her brother that she is not. Why is it so difficult to make a determination once and for all of what her medical condition is?

GUPTA: For the most part, this is a clinical diagnosis. That's what makes it difficult. There's no single blood test, there's no signel scan of the brain that's going to tell you for sure that she is in a persistant vegetative state versus a coma versus something else. And that makes it difficult.

What also makes it difficult, I think, is just the emotions that are sort of attached to someone who can be in a persistant vegetative state. And what I mean by that, a lot of people describe this as a state of wakeful unawareness, wakeful unawareness. That's a very difficult concept for a lot of people to get their arms around. What does that mean exactly? It means someone might open their eyes, they might even look at you, they may close their eyes when it's time to sleep. They have the state of sleep/wake sort of cycle. They have some responsiveness to touch, perhaps, they can grimace, they can make noise. All of the stuff suggestive that the lower part of the brain, the brain stem if you will, Judy, does appear to be functioning.

The problem is that anything above that, any of the higher brain functions, the ability to reason, the ability to understand, the ability to express oneself are all gone.

This is a difficult concept even for doctors to get their arms around, certainly for family members and the lay public as well.

WOODRUFF: But -- but Sanjay, as we understand it, the doctors who have examined Terri Schiavo -- and we just heard the professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School saying it's her understanding that the CAT scans have shown no higher brain activity. That the part of the brain that thinks, that senses being, is not there.

GUPTA: I heard that as well. Let me say a couple of things about that. Again, there is no specific scan that's going to tell you for sure that someone is in a persistent vegetative state. I did hear the comments that she made.

Certainly a CAT scan -- what happened in Terri Schiavo's case back 15-years-ago now -- was that her heart failed as a result of some imbalance of electrolytes in her body. Her heart failed. And when her heart failed, she not pumping enough blood to her brain. So essentially, she had a period of time where her brain was not getting enought blood flow.

A lot of people call that a stroke. It can be a stroke. Or it can be more of a diffuse problem as it was in the case of her. None of her brain was getting enough blood flow for awhile. So parts of her brain did die. And that is something that would be evident on CAT scan.

But exactly how profound an impact that's going to have on somebody is something that can only be told clinically, meaning you actually have to examine the patient. I should point out I've never examined Terri Schiavo nor have I looked at her scans. But everything that I'm hearing from the doctors that have say that she fits the clinical diagnosis of a persistant vegetative state, he scan fit the diagnosis of someone who suffered a period of time where her brain did not get enough oxygen. And those two things put together are concerning, obviously.

WOODRUFF: And Sanjay, do you know of any instance where someone with that clinical diagnosis returned to normal, or reversed that condition.

GUPTA: No. And I should say, Judy, that I looked it up again. I wanted to be doubly sure about this. And I went through all the, sort of, journals out there to trying and figure out if there's ever been a documented case of someone returning -- this far out, 15 years now. And again, terms are important here, Judy. So, people use the term persistant vegetative state. To be even more clear on this, once it passes beyond one year in terms of someone without any recovery from a persistent vegetative state, the appropriate term at that point is permanent vegetative state. Which is exactly what it means.

It is called permanent vegetative state because there have been no known cases for someone to return to having any function.

WOODRUFF: If it's that clear than, again, Sanjay, I'm sorry to be repeating the question, why is there such a dispute here?

GUPTA: Well, I think, again, because there is no absolute blood test or brain scan that's going to gell you for sure, it sounds to me -- and I've been following this case along -- that a few of the doctors have disagreed, at least a little bit.

You know, five neurologists, court appointed, examined Terri, three of them concluded for sure that she was in a persistant vegetative state, two said not sure completely that she is. There was question that they maybe have been discredited after the fact.

I think part of the problem Judy, and again, I'm a neurosurgeon as you know, and I examine a lot of patients, it is a difficult problem even for doctors to try and get their arms around. You see someone opening their eyes, you see someone maybe even looking at you, responding like if you were to clap your hands really loud on their right of their head they might turn their head toward you. All of those things to the lay person mean, hey, that person is awake and aware.

But as we probe deeper, as we look to see what is reflex and what is real, we find that in fact these are all just reflexes, that there is nothing there above just the basica human reflexes.

WOODRUFF: Dr. Sanjay Gupta telling us that in fact after one year of a condition like what it is believed Terri Schiavo has been in, it is a permanent vegetative state.

Sanjay, thank you very much.

We are continuing to monitor the debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. As it gets closer to midnight, in just a little under an hour and a half right now, the House is due to take a vote on whether the Terri Schiavo case should be sent to the federal courts with the hope that those courts would overturn the state court ruling the feeding tube has been withdrawn -- Carol.

LIN: Judy, we're also covering some other news out of the world headquarters here, including some major developments in the investigation of the murder of Jessica Lunsford. We are learning more details of how she may have been taken out of her home and what happened next.

We're going to take a quick break.


WOODRUFF: We take you quickly to the floor of the House of Resprentatives where Democratic Congressman John Lewis of Georgia of Atlanta is speaking.


REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) GEORGIA: ...night for the House of Representatives. Mr. Speaker, is it possible for us to let this young woman take her leave in peace?

HASTERT: Challenge time expired. The gentleman from...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two minutes for the gentleman from Tennesee, Mr. Blackburn.

HASTERT: The gentleman from Tennessee is recognized for two minutes.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R) TENNESSEE: Thank you Mr. Speaker. We all know that there are deep emotions that are involved in this debate tonight. And earlier, many of us met with Terri Schiavo's brother, and I don't think that anyone can truly convey what that family is going through. And as a mother, a tragedy of this type is my worst nightmare.

But Mr. Speaker we, this Congress, we aren't here simply because we believe in our hearts that a great mistake is about to be made, we are here because all of us, each and every one of us, Americans, members of Congress, we all know and we understand that the most basic, most fundamental right guarenteed by our constitution, that is the right to life. And it is our responsibility to protect that right.

Now I interpret, and a lot of people have looked at the decision by the Florida judiciary, and they interpret this, is being something that says our society, our country, should be willing to accept and facilitate the murder of an adult human being, a human being who has not committed any crime at all whatsoever. I don't think the founders of our country or our constitution would agree with that decision Mr. Speaker.

I think it's entirely appropriate that the federal courts consider this matter, a matter that so clearly speaks to the core of our belief. The belief that every human being has worth, every human being has a value.

WOODRUFF: We're listening to the debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. It's literally going back and forth, Democrats speak and then Republicans, they are operating under very tight time constraints, a limited amount of time for each member to speak. And we are watching the clock.

As the debate continues, it will go until midnight Eastern time at which point, we are told, there will be a vote. They need 218 votes, a quarum, in order to pass this legislation that would call the federal court to examine what the state courts in Florida have done about Terri Schiavo --- Carol.

LIN: Judy, we've also been monitoring, frankly, the horrifying details of another story that has gripped this country. The story of a 46-year-old man who allegedly confessed to murdering 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.

Well, we are learning more details about the last hours of that little girl's life and how she may have been kidnapped and killed. She may have actually lived for more than a day in those circumstances.

And now we have learned that there is evicence that she was sexually assaulted. CNN's Sara Dorsey has more.


SARA DORSEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With each passing day, the memorial for 9-year-old, Jessica Marie Lunsford grows larger as more disturbing details of her murder come to light.

Law enforcement sources tell CNN, it appears John Couey walked into the Lunsford home, made his way into Jessica's bedroom, put his hand over her mouth, told her to be quiet and then forced her out of the house.

Sources say it appears Jessica was not killed immediately. He might have held her hostage more than a day, possibly two. Investigators say, because of Couey's drug haze, quote, "his timelines are all over the place."

Couey, the alleged killer sits in jail just one town away. He made his first court appearance handcuffed and shackled Sunday morning in front of Circuit Court Judge Stephen Spivey on unrelated charges.

JUDGE STEPHEN SPIVEY, FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT: Do you have any questions to the court this morning.

DORSEY: Citrus County sheriff's officials say charges in the Lunsford case are coming. Jessica's dad wants to see Couey gone for good.

MARK LUNSFORD, JESSICA LUNSFORD'S FATHER: And I need everbody's support on pushing the death penalty upon this man. He is scum. And anybody that acts like him, or even resmbles him is scum. And you do not deserve to be amongst us.

DORSEY: John Couey was extradicted overnight from Georgia where he allegedly confessed to killing Jessica. And told investigators where her body was buried.

He arrived in Florida early Sunday morning. For his own safety, Couey wore a bullet-proof vest. And the eight hour trip was made under the cover of darkness.

RONDA HEMMINGER EVAN, CITRUS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: We felt that that was the best way to bring him back as soon as possible and as safely as possible. That transport was conducted by two of our deputies. We did use an unmarked vehicle. And the transport went without incident.

DORSEY: Those that knew Jessica and some who only knew her unfortunate story packed into Faith Baptist Church, Jessica's church to try to find some comfort after such a senseless crime.

RITSA SODERBERG, HOMOSASSA SPRINGS CHURCHGOER: We're all thankful she's in heaven now. We're happy about that. It's just sad how the road that she took to get there.

DORSEY: The crime scene tape still visible from the Lunsford's front door, a reminder of a three week search that came to a horrible end.

LUNSFORD: We need to make some changes people. This does not need to ahappen again. Not this close to home.

DORSEY: Sara Dorsey, CNN, Homosassa Springs, Florida.



LIN: Also, we want to get back to the reason for our special programming tonight, the battle over Terri Schiavo. This is a live picture of what's happening outside of her hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida near Tampa. It is a situation where protesters and television sattelite trucks are gathered outside as the House right now is debating legislation that if it passes, and the president said he will sign, will give jurisdiction in this case to a federal court to review her constitutional rights in this matter. And yet inside, she lays in her hospice bed.

Now how this 41-year-old woman found herself the subject of a national right to life debate is as unlikely as story as her story is heart breaking.


LIN (voice-over): Terri Schiavo, her given name is Teresa Marie, weighted about 110 pounds when she reached her 26 birthday in December 1989. But the thin Terri in these pictures was quite different from the one who had graduated from high school a decade earlier. Then she was nearly a 100 pounds heavier. Weight had always been a problem: lossing, gaining and then losing again.

In February of 1990 when she collapsed, gasping on the floor of her home, weight was still a problem and bulimia her demon.

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO'S HUSBAND: Bulimia as from what I've learned over the years is a very secretive disease. Terri's electrolye balance in her body that day, she had a 2.0 potassium, and that potassium feeds your heart.

LIN: Terri's heart had failed. The episode left her with serious brain damage.

For the next three years she was moved in and out of various treatment centers and was awarded more than a million dollars in malpractice claims. But by 1993 Michael and Terri's parents and brother and sister were in serious disagreement over the course of her care and the nature of her condition.

BOBBY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S BROTHER: I am totally convinced that Terri is very aware of what we're saying. And you know, we understand, Terri has a disability, she's profoundly disabled, but she can be helped.

LIN: Yet her husband contends it was never her wish this way, that she would want to die.

SCHIAVO: This is Terri's wish. And I'm going to follow that wish if it's the last thing I can do for Terri. I love Terri deeply, and I'm going to follow that out for Terri.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terri, can you look at me?

LIN: And for the last decade, the dispute over whether to continue care or end it has involved state and federal courts, the state of Florida and the U.S. Congress. And has galvanized both so- called right to life and right to die groups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terri Schaivo is alive. She's not just barely alive. She is not being kept alive. She is alive as you and I. And as such, we have a moral obligation to protect and defend her from the fate premeditated by the Florida courts. This is not over.

GEORGE FELOS, MICHEAL SCHIAVO'S ATTORNEY: She has become a pawn in a political football game between different elements in this country. And at this point, she unfortunately is nothing, I believe nothing more than a cause for certain elements to prove their political prowess and political power.


LIN: And so it comes down to the next hour and 15 minutes as the House debates legislation and is expected to vote one minute after midnight.

President Bush is at the White House tonight ready to sign any legislation that emerges from Congress to prolong Terri Schiavo's life. He cut short his visit to his Texas ranch to return from Washington.

At any rate, we're going to get back to with Judy Woodruff who is monitoring that debate in the House up in Washington D.C. -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Carol, thanks very much.

We brought back to the studio here in Washington our White House correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, you've been watching over the last several days how the White House has reacted to the developments in the Terri Schiavo case. Initially, they were pretty much holding back weren't they?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hold back in terms of the process, the legal process. But the president put out a statement last week making it clear that he did believe, does believe that Terri Schiavo, because there is doubt, should be kept alive.

But when Congress started moving, and when, essentially, they tried to order the state court to stop the removal of the feeding tube, they were quite cautious, because they didn't -- they made clear they didn't know how it was going to go.

But once it did become clear last night that it was going to end up in the president's lap, on his desk, they said that he will sign this piece of legislation.

WOODRUFF: It's very clear -- the preponderance of the Republican party is behind this, the right to life movement is certainly behind this. What about the comment by Michael Schiavo's attorney -- we just heard it played a second ago -- that Terri Schiavo has become a pawn in a political football game?

I mean, you know, how do you, covering the White House and watching the presidents action here this evening?

BASH: Well, again, perhaps that's why they were so cautious in watchin how this played out legally before the presidend said he would sign this. But in terms of the politics, we asked many, many times about the consequences of this, whether or not this would appear to be -- the fact that the president was trying to show to conservatives who did very much come out for him, perhaps were very instrumental in his reelection, trying to show that he understood where they were coming from and to perhaps reward them. Of course, they deny that at the White House, they deny that on Capital Hill that that is any part of this.

What their answer is that the president does fundamentally believe in what they call the culture of life. That is, the buzz, Judy, interesting here about abortion, now it's much, much broader about all kinds of issues as science and technology changes, including in this particular issue.

WOODRUFF: The other intesting piece of this Dana, I keep think -- oviously it's a very different case in 2000 with the dispute -- disputed election. You had the Florida courts being overturned by the United States Supreme Court. You had the governor of Florida, who just happens to be the president's brother. And he we are, a very different case a little more than four years later where you have the state that the president's brother is the governor of, a case winding its way through those Florida state courts.

BASH: That's what's so interesting. This is not an unfamiliar case to the president. He is perhaps intimitely involved because his brother has been fighting this for so many years.

Essentially what happened is that his brother went through all of the legal wrangling that he possibly could. He even got a law passed in Florida. And then it was overturned by the court. And now it's essentially a question of the federal government. And that's his brother, that's the president.

So that is why when the White House says this is extraordinary and complex, the president actually does know the particulars of this because his brother has been so involved.

WOODRUFF: Dana, if this bill passes the house after its passed the Senate with the -- they get the 218 votes, what happens? It'll be a little after midnight here in Washington. The president is known to be someone who retires early, but, what?

BASH: Essentially, what is going to happen is they're going to move it very quickly from Capital Hill to the White House. What we're told is that the persident is likely to just simply sign it in the residence, not go down to the Oval Office to do it. We're probably not going to see a photograph of him doing it, we're just going to hear from the White House that he has signed it. He'll probably put out a statement.

And it's interesting, Judy, we asked why, you know -- we're seeing, of course, the pictures of the debate, and there certainly is a specacle around this, a spectacle around the president returning early from Craword, but they say they don't want to have cameras there while the presidetn is signing this. The president's spokesman said, because he doesn't want to throw himself into the spotlight here.

WOODRUFF: Not in the spotlight and yet, he did come back to Washington at least a week before he was scheduled to come back.

All right. Dana Bash, following it all. And of course, Dana will around as will the rest of our crew in Washington to discover just what does happen at the White House if this legislation passes the Congress.

We're going to take a short break. A coverage of this extraordinary session in the Congress, looking at the life of Terri Schiavo. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN speical presentation.

WOODRUFF: We're watching a special, in fact, an extraordinary session of the House of Representatives tonight voting on legislation that would affect the future of Terri Schiavo, the brain damaged Florida woman who fell into what is described as a vegetative state 15-years-ago after loss of oxygen to her brain. Tonight, members of the House of Representatives, RRepublicans and Democrats are debating whether Terri Schiavo's case should be turned over to the federal courts to weigh in and in the hopes of the leadership of the House decide to restore the feeding tube that was pulled out on Friday at the behest, or at the direction of the Florida state courts.

With me now is someone who has followed cases like this, is Marcie Roth. She is the executive director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

Marcie Roth, why is your organization interested in this case?

MARCIE ROTH, NATIONAL SPINAL CORD INJURY ASSOC: Well, we're one of 26 organizations that's taken a very strong position in support of Terri Schindler Schiavo's right to food and hydration.

WOODRUFF: And what is it about the case that compells you to take a position?

ROTH: We all believe that people with disabilities have the right to food and hydration. We feel very strongly that Terri's rights as a woman with a disability are really what's at the heart of all of this. And that the politics are not at the center of this story, but in fact her rights as a human being, as a woman with a disability.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you a couple of things. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says that he knows that its her wish that she not go on living in a state that has been described as persistant vegetative, permanent vegetative state, a condition from which it as my understanding no one has been able to reverse

ROTH: Well, in fact, many people who have been in a condition which may have been identified as persistent vegetative state or folks who were in commas for a long period of time have said to me directly, you know, I thought I knew what I would have wanted before my injury, but I'm one of the lucky people who has come out of it. And during the time that I was unable to communicate, I very much wanted to live.

As long as their's any doubt, why wouldn't we err on the side of giving this woman food and water? Giving her the medical tests. They're now available that weren't available 15-years-ago.

WOODRUFF: Would that view, though, apply, Marcie Roth, to every case around the country where someone appeared to be, by all medical definition in an irreversable state, no hope of turnaround, you're argument is that they should be allowed to stay alive, that food and water should not be withdrawn in any of these circumstances. Is that what your saying?

ROTH: Food and water is very different than the kind of life support equipment that many people are thinking about when they think about this case. But in fact, beyond that, the issue is, we're just not sure what Terri would have wanted. And Terri is not the person who is being given the opportunity to express wishes. It's someone else who may or many not have addition reasons. We don't know.

And so for that reason, we simply need to err on the side of protecting her rights.

WOODRUFF: So is it your position that unless there is on a piece of paper, a living will signed by that individual, saying if I'm in a condition where there appears to be no reverse, I wish to have my life terminated. ROTH: Everyone has the opportunity to express their wishes. And those who express their wishes certainly have a right to have their wishes upheld.

WOODRUFF: Any idea how many people like this around the country, in this similar?

ROTH: I don't know. I would assume that there are a surprising number.

And there are many people with disabilities who frequently having to find themselves having to fight for their basic medical care. Doctors will try to convince them that their life is not a life worth living. And they've had to fight to get the treatment that they're trying to seek.

WOODRUFF: Marcie Roth is the executive director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. We thank you very much for coming in and speaking on behalf of the disability community. We appreciate it. Thank you.

This is Capital Hill. You're looking at live pictures. We've been showing them to you for the last hour, almost 2 hours. The lights are on, the House is in session. Lawmakers debating a protentially precedent-setting proposal tonight. We are on top of it.


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