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 Hospital patient with feeding tube.
The “Other’ Feeding Tubes
By: Cash Michaels
Wilmington Journal
Originally posted 3/28/2005

WILMINGTON (NNPA) --Asking his conservative colleagues, “How many feeding tubes have we withdrawn by our own indifference in this body?,” N.C Congressman Mel Watt doggedly went after what he felt was the hypocrisy of Congressional Republicans Sunday just before they, and over 50 Democrats, voted in an unusual midnight session to pass a private law that mandated federal judicial review the controversial Terri Schiavo case.

Watt was visibly upset to see GOP members of Congress fully envelope themselves with the plight of one woman, but totally ignore the impact that Medicare and other social program cuts will have on the poor and elderly.

“The compassion comes out in this one case, but where is the compassion when we point out to you every single day that people are starving and dying and seeking justice and you will not hear it?,” the seven-term Charlotte Democrat asked during the three-hour debate.

Schiavo, 41, is the Florida woman who has remained in a vegetative state for the past 15 years after a chemical imbalance briefly stopped her heart.
Florida courts have not only confirmed her hopeless condition, but also her expressed wish to friends and family to be allowed to die if ever her ability to function was seriously impaired.

Federal courts this week upheld those rulings. Because of the long and emotional court battle between her husband, who wants her to die, and her parents, who want their daughter to live, Congress got involved last week, calling an extraordinary session which saw the Senate unanimously ratify a private bill on Schiavo’s behalf, and then the House, led by conservative Republicans, do the same thing after three hours of debate Palm Sunday night, before President Bush signed it into law.

No Republican answered Watt’s challenge about alleged GOP compassion directly, but they were effusive about how important it was for Congress to stand by Schiavo. “Mr. Speaker, it is a sad day in America when a society as great as ours and filled with as many opportunities as ours turns its back on one of its most vulnerable disabled citizens,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from Winston-Salem, said on the House floor.

“It is unfortunate that it has come to this.” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and Republican from Wisconsin, declared that Congress must “reinforce the law’s commitment to justice and compassion for all Americans, particularly the most vulnerable.”

But Watt, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, wasn’t buying all of the “love,” “caring” and “compassion” many a Republican House member expressed in wanting Congress to move quickly to preserve the life of the severely mentally impaired patient.

“Mr. Speaker, I just came in on the plane from North Carolina, and I found myself thinking a lot about what we are doing here this evening,” Watt told his fellow House members.

“Wondering, first of all, what this vote is going to cost the American people, making a mental calculation that probably $5 million we are spending on this one vote this evening, and wondering how many children are going to go to bed hungry tonight and how many we could feed with that amount of money; how many feeding tubes we have withdrawn by our own indifference in this body, by the decisions that we have made in this body that pit one group against another.”

“I found myself wondering where the compassion was last week when we tried to rally the members of this body behind the Congressional Black Caucus’ agenda and budget and pointed out to them that 886,000 more people died over the last 10 years, African- Americans, because they did not get the same kind of quality of medical care that White Americans got, just the difference in the qualities,” Watt continued.

“Where was your compassion when we tried to get you to address that issue?”

“The compassion comes out in this one case, but where is the compassion when we point out to you every single day that people are starving and dying and seeking justice and you will not hear it?” Watt asked his conservative colleagues.”

“How do we define compassion here? We have got to look at a bigger global picture, I think. You cannot just react to one person’s situation. Where is your compassion when we need you?”

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