Obama tells debate audience he regrets Schiavo vote

Updated Feb. 28

CLEVELAND (BP)--Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama said during a debate Feb. 26 that he regrets his 2005 vote allowing Congress to get involved in the case involving Terri Schiavo, the severely disabled woman from Florida who died of starvation and dehydration after her feeding tube was pulled.

Obama made the comments during a Democratic debate with Hillary Clinton. Both were asked if there were any words or votes they'd "like to take back." Clinton cited her vote authorizing the war in Iraq; Obama, his Schiavo vote.

In March 2005, the Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent allowing Schiavo's parents to take their case to federal court seeking to keep their daughter alive; they had exhausted all legal options within the Florida state courts. Although the parents said Schiavo would have wanted to live, Schiavo's husband disagreed, saying his wife previously had told him she would not want to remain in such a condition. Complicating matters was the fact that Schiavo's husband lived with a girlfriend, with whom he had fathered two children. Some people, including Schiavo's parents, said the husband's romantic involvement with another woman served as a conflict of interest. Schiavo had been severely brain-damaged since 1990.

Obama had been in the Senate less than two months when the vote took place.

"It wasn't something I was comfortable with, but it was not something that I stood on the floor and stopped," Obama said during the debate. "And I think that was a mistake, and I think the American people understood that that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better.... And I think that's an example of inaction, and sometimes that can be as costly as action."

It's not the first time Obama has made such a remark; in an April 2007 debate, Obama made a similar remark about regretting his vote on the Schiavo matter. But this time, Obama's remarks came as the frontrunner.

Schiavo's father, Robert Schindler, criticized Obama's latest remarks.

"Everyone with a disability, or who knows someone with a disability, should be outraged that a potential U.S. president would so callously reject his own action taken in favor of life over death," Schinder said in a statement. "... Highly visible public figures, especially those who may one day speak on behalf of all citizens, should not imply that some citizens are less worthy than others. As President, would Barack Obama stand for all of us or just some of us?"

David N. O'Steen, executive director of National Right to Life, said Obama's remarks "show a callous disregard" for people with disabilities.

"His comments demonstrate a worrisome trend with regard to treating persons with disabilities," O'Steen said in a statement. "By applying a 'quality of life' test, disabled patients across the country are in danger of being denied life-saving care and food and water. There is an assumption being adopted that if a patient is disabled and unable to speak for themselves, they would be 'better off dead.'"

People with "serious illnesses" and "disabilities" should be "fearful" of Obama "ever being in a position to make health care policy for our nation," O'Steen said.

Obama is not alone in his beliefs. Last year, two Republican presidential candidates supported by social conservatives -- Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson -- said they disagreed with Congress' intervention. Romney said Congress' action was a "mistake," while Thompson said it should have been left up to the family. The bill passed when Republicans held both chambers.

During a debate last year, Republican John McCain called the matter a "very, very difficult issue" and seemed himself to have some regrets.

"All of us were deeply moved by the pictures and the depiction of this terrible, tragic case," McCain said. "In retrospect, we should have taken some more time, looked at it more carefully, and probably [we] reacted too hastily."

Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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