In addition to the speeches, Frist
backed a Senate strategy that threatens criminal sanctions against anyone who
keeps Schiavo from attending a Washington hearing next week, to which she and
her husband Michael Schiavo were invited early yesterday.
"I suspect that Senator Frist has
his eye more on the Iowa caucus than the Hippocratic Oath," said Marshall
Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council and former GOP
Senate staffer. "This is clearly the politics of the Republican base."
Republican pollster Anthony Fabrizio
said Frist will doubtlessly win applause from staunch opponents of euthanasia
and abortion, but he may receive a cooler reception from advocates of states'
rights and limited federal government. "If you want to confirm your bona fides"
with the former group, Fabrizio said, "this is a good way to do it. But while
you're pleasing one segment of the party, you may be setting yourself up for
trouble with conservatives who say 'we don't want more federal control over this
Some medical professionals
questioned the appropriateness of Frist challenging court-approved doctors who
have treated Schiavo. Laurie Zoloth, director of bioethics for the Center for
Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University, said she was surprised to hear
Frist weigh in, given that he has not examined Schiavo. "It is extremely unusual
-- and by a non-neurologist, I might add," Zoloth said in an interview.
Were Frist rendering an official
medical judgment, she said, relying on an "amateur video" could raise liability
issues. After 15 years, "there should be no confusion about the medical data,
and that's what was so surprising to me about Dr. Frist disagreeing about her
medical status," Zoloth said.
It is not the first time that Frist
has created a stir in medical and political circles. In December, on ABC's "This
Week With George Stephanopoulos," he repeatedly declined to say whether he
thought HIV-AIDS could be transmitted through tears or sweat. A much-disputed
federal education program championed by some conservative groups had suggested
that such transmissions occur.
After numerous challenges by
Stephanopoulos, Frist said that "it would be very hard" for someone to contract
AIDS via tears or sweat. The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention says: "Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to
result in transmission of HIV."
Frist's aides say political
considerations played no role in his actions regarding Schiavo. "His interest in
this was sparked solely as a medical and human rights matter," said Eric M.
Ueland, his chief of staff. "It's time for people to take off the 2008
rose-colored glasses and see Bill Frist for who he really is."
Conservative activist Gary Bauer,
who made a 2000 presidential bid, praised Frist's role in the Schiavo case and
said he would be surprised if conservatives of any stripe take offense. "I don't
think there's any danger on the limited-role-of-federal-government argument,"
Bauer said, "because protecting life is an issue that transcends
Still Bauer said, Frist's
intervention carries political risks because "the general public has been told
she's in a vegetative state," and voters may view his actions as inappropriate
meddling. "But I think he and others have been so courageous about this" that
people will see them as "willing to go to the mat for one handicapped individual
Democratic strategist Jim Jordan
offered a much stronger assessment. "It's quackery," he said. "It'd be hilarious
if it weren't so grotesque, how his presidential ambitions and pandering to the
right wing is clashing with his life's work."