AUSTIN, Texas -- I write about the Terri Schiavo case both as one who has personally confronted the "pull the plug" question on several levels in recent years and as a staggered observer of this festival of political hypocrisy, opportunism and the trashing of constitutional law, common sense and common decency.

Look, the fundamental question in such cases is, "Who decides?" Preferably, the dying themselves, with a living will. In this case, evidence that Terri Schiavo did not want her life continued in its current pitiable state has been offered and accepted in several courts of law. Next, the next-of-kin, though in many cases someone else may be closer to the dying person, such as a longtime lover, and should be legally designated to make the decision through power of attorney.

Bad cases make bad law, and this is a bad case. In the tragic cases where a family splits on the decision, the case goes to court, where there is a well-established body of law on the subject. The Schiavo case has been litigated for seven years now, the verdict upheld at every level (including the U.S. Supreme Court, by refusing to hear arguments). It is beyond comprehension, not to mention the Constitution, that the Congress of the United States and the president should have involved themselves at this point.

What on earth makes them think they have the right to do so? Both libertarians and constitutional conservatives, including Justice Scalia, should be having fits over this push by the federal government into a private family matter. Congress has no power to overturn judicial decisions, nor has it any role in such painful personal decisions. This is as arrogant a usurpation of power as we have had since FDR's court-packing plan.

As Barney Frank, D-Mass., so trenchantly put it, "This is a terribly difficult decision which we are, institutionally, totally incompetent to make." George W. Bush is neither a neurologist nor a medical ethicist. What on earth is he doing in this case?

For your information, while he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed the Advanced Directives Act in 1999, which gives hospitals the right to remove life support in cases where there is no possibility of revival, when the family cannot pay, no matter what the family's wishes are in the matter. In Texas, you can only live in a persistent vegetative state if you are accepted in one of the few institutions that provide such care or if your family is both willing and able to take care of you. And if Bush is so concerned about the right to life, why didn't he give death-row inmate Karla Faye Tucker more than 10 minutes consideration and some cheap mockery?

The very Republicans who pushed for this arrogant, interfering bill, which if used across the board would take away everyone's right to make their own decisions in these awful cases, are the same people who voted to cut Medicaid, which pays for the care of people like Terri Schiavo across the country.

That the main player in this fiasco is Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- who is in the midst of yet another scandal himself -- is enough to make anyone throw up. This is a man whose sense of morality is so deformed that upon being chastised three times by the House Ethics Committee, his response was to change the rules and stack the committee.

What a despicable display of pure political pandering. What an insult to everyone who has faced this decision without ever considering asking 535 strangers in Washington, D.C., what to do.

How can anyone want to cede that authority to a bunch of politicians?

I am indebted to the blogger called Digby for the following points: Those who passed this bill are the same politicians who want to outlaw medical malpractice suits like the one that provided the care for Terri Schiavo for many years while she was in "a persistent vegetative state." They are the same politicians who have just finished changing bankruptcy law so that it is now much harder for families hit by tragedies like this one to get out from under the staggering medical bills. How dare they talk about morality?

How can a bunch of blowhard television pundits with no medical training whatsoever conclude anything about Terri Schiavo's condition from watching a few seconds of edited videotape? Where on earth do they get the nerve to make any pronouncements about her condition?

Who are these professional anti-abortion activists who think they have the right to make decisions about someone else's life? Those who think letting someone who is critically brain dead die is the same as Auschwitz are incapable of making moral distinctions.

I watched one of the dearest men who ever lived, who had no chance of regaining consciousness, toss for hours in relentless pain before he escaped because the state of New York had such draconian drug laws the doctors were afraid to give him enough morphine to kill the pain. The New York legislature, in all its majesty, made sure the 76-year-old, 90-pound man dying from cancer did not become a morphine addict. Political bodies have no business making medical decisions.

Do I believe in miracles? Yes, I do, and I'm praying for one that will let the sanctimonious phonies in Washington realize the gross moral error of their presumption.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.