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Historians Differ on Impact of Schiavo Law

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050321/ap_on_go_co/schiavo_precedent&e=1 Historians Differ on Impact of Schiavo Law 38 minutes ago By JESSE
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 21, 2005
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      http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050321/ap_on_go_co/schiavo_precedent&e=1

      Historians Differ on Impact of Schiavo Law

      38 minutes ago

      By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

      WASHINGTON - Elian Gonzales' plight and other stories
      of woe have occasionally inflamed the passions of
      lawmakers, but they haven't inspired Congress to pass
      with such fanfare a law addressing a lone, specific
      grievance.

      Some historians say the case of Terri Schiavo is so
      unusual that it will be difficult for Congress to pass
      another such law, no matter how appealing the cause.

      "It's hard enough for Congress to deal with big issues
      like taxes or war, but to start getting into
      individual cases like this will be hard for the
      institution to sustain," said Julian Zelizer, a Boston
      University professor who specializes in congressional
      history and trends.

      Others, however, say Congress has opened a door it
      will never be able to close.

      "Why won't others claim that, 'We have similar cases
      or identical cases and why did you act in that case
      and not in my case?'" said Allan Lichtman, who chairs
      the history department at American University in
      Washington. "I think the door has been opened and it
      certainly wouldn't surprise me to see other cases
      arise before Congress."

      Congress early Monday morning rushed legislation to
      President Bush (news - web sites) to give Schiavo's
      parents a chance in federal court to overturn a
      Florida judge's decision to remove her feeding tube.

      Her husband Michael has been arguing for years that
      the brain-damaged woman would not want to be kept
      alive artificially, while her parents and relatives
      say she responds to them and shouldn't be starved to
      death.

      Lawmakers have tried before to step into hot-button
      issues. Senate Republicans in 2000 filed bills to
      provide American citizenship to 6-year-old Elian
      Gonzales so he wouldn't be sent back to Cuba after his
      mother died trying to get to the United States.
      Legislation stalled on the Senate floor.

      Congress, however, routinely passes small individual
      relief bills to help people on non-controversial
      issues like permanent residency, tax overpayments and
      government mistakes.

      "A lot of these personal relief bills are fairly
      technical matters, to take care of a loophole in the
      law that otherwise would have created a problem, but
      not at this level of grandeur or attention," said
      Senate Historian Richard Baker.

      Zelizer said the Schiavo bill is different.

      "This isn't about a legislator protecting someone in
      their district or someone in their state, which is
      usually what that is about," he said. "This is about
      Congress collectively intervening (on behalf of)
      someone who most of the legislators have no tie with,
      which is why it's kind of remarkable."

      Lawmakers wrote specifically in the Schiavo bill that
      it is not to be used as a precedent for those with
      similarly compelling stories. Lichtman said that
      assurance is meaningless now that the precedent has
      been set.

      "Any intensely private and painful decisions that
      families render now suddenly could be made public," he said.
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