Senate, House Committees Issue Subpoenas to Block Feeding Tube Removal

In the latest 11th-hour bid to keep Terri Schiavo alive, House and Senate leaders in Washington began issuing congressional subpoenas to stop doctors from disconnecting her feeding tube hours before the scheduled removal, Friday.

In a two-pronged approach, both chambers of Congress began issuing congressional subpoenas while an attorney for Terri’s parents said he would ask a federal judge in Tampa to block the tube’s removal and review the action of the courts.

Such habeas corpus appeals, which seek to require the government to justify its actions, are usually used in death penalty cases.

"We are going to ask him to issue a stay because in this case, state action would be used to end the life of an innocent, disabled woman," said David Gibbs, attorney for Bob and Mary Schindler.

The last-ditch effort came after lawmakers in both Washington and Tallahassee failed attempts to pass legislation to keep Terri alive.

The Florida House on Thursday passed a bill that would block the withholding of Terri’s food and water, but the Senate failed to pass the measure.

The U.S. House also passed a measure that would give Schiavo, and others in her situation, the right to a federal hearing. However, the Senate failed to pass the measure, and instead passed a similar bill one that was more narrowly focused and would apply to Terri’s case only.

By the time the Senate passed the separate measure, many of the House representatives were already home for the Easter break, leaving the bills incomplete.

In an apparent effort to buy more time until the House and Senate could decide on a compromised measure, a House committee in Capitol Hill decided early Friday morning to start an investigation into Schiavo’s case and issued subpoenas ordering doctors and hospice administrators not to remove the feeding tubes at 1 p.m. (EST) as scheduled.

In a joint statement issued Friday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majoirty Leader Tom DeLay and Government Reform chairman Tom Davis explained that the fight for Terri’s life is “not over.

"This inquiry should give hope to Terri, her parents and friends and the millions of people throughout the world who are praying for her safety," the three lawmakers said. "This fight is not over."

According to AP, it was not immediately known when the subpoenas would be delivered to Schiavo’s hospice and doctors, or whether the Florida health care providers would even recognize them.

A possible penalty for not recognizing the subpoena is to be held in contempt of Congress, a GOP leadership aide said.

Meanwhile, as Senate Committee issued a subpoena for Schiavo herself to appear in Washington. The subpoena, issued by Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, called Terri and her husband Michael to appear March 28 before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

A statement from Senate Majoirty Leader Bill Frist said the hearing would “review health care policies and practices relevant to the care of non-ambulatory persons such as Mrs. Schiavo."

"The Senate and the House remain dedicated to saving Terri Schiavo’s life," he wrote in his statement. "While discussions over possible legislative remedies continue, the Senate and the House are taking action to keep her alive in the interim.

"Federal criminal law protects witnesses called before official Congressional committee proceedings from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness’ attendance or testimony," Senator Frist said in the statement. "More specifically, the law protects a witness from anyone who -- by threats, force, or by any threatening letter or communication --influences, obstructs, or impedes an inquiry or investigation by Congress. Anyone who violates this law is subject to criminal fines and imprisonment."

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet again Monday, and congressional leaders hope the subpoenas can keep Terri alive until they can reach an agreement on a bill.