On the brink

An informative piece at CNN.com updates readers about what's going on in the Terri Schiavo case and captures some of the insane wrangling that the case has inspired. Right now (very early Friday morning) the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Government Reform plans to issue a subpoena to require hospice administrators and attending physicians to "preserve nutrition and hydration for Terri Schiavo to allow Congress to fully understand the procedures and practices that are currently keeping her alive."

This effort comes after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a plea by Terri Schiavo's parents that it stay the removal of their daughter's feeding tube until a court could decide whether Terri's "religious freedom and due process rights were being violated" by her husband's attempts to remove the tube. The Florida Supreme Court likewise rejected a similar plea from Florida's Department of Children and Family Services.

The subpoena is a stop-gap measure while Congress decides what to do. Both the House and Senate have passed bills that would give the federal courts some sort of jurisdiction in the case, but the House version is broader than the Senate's, and with Congress about to go on recess, quick resolution is extremely unlikely.

"As Terri Schiavo lays helpless in Florida, one day away from the unthinkable and unforgivable, the Senate Democrats refused to join Republicans to act on her behalf," Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay have charged in a joint statement. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid shot back, "If the House Republicans refuse to pass our bipartisan bill, they bear responsibility for the consequences."

Schiavo's feeding tube is set to be removed at 1 p.m. today, but at this hour I don't think anybody knows what's going to occur.

Legislation to do anything about it stalled in Florida, but in partial defense of the Florida lawmakers, they've already dealt with this issue before, only to have the Florida Supreme Court deem their efforts unconstitutional. There a sense in which the decision is out of their hands.

That's unfortunate. A great way to frame this story is to look at how the courts are taking hold of an explosive case with real ramifications for the debate about end-of-life issues and arrogantly refusing to accept any legislative curbs on their powers. Some conservative writers have used that frame, but reporters have been wary of accepting this angle, as it challenges all sorts of trendy Cherished Beliefs about the American political system.

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