DeLay family outcome different from Schiavo's
A family tragedy unfolding in a Texas hospital in 1988 was a private ordeal — without judges, emergency sessions of Congress or the...
Los Angeles Times
CANYON LAKE, Texas — A family tragedy unfolding in a Texas hospital in 1988 was a private ordeal — without judges, emergency sessions of Congress or the raging debate outside Terri Schiavo's Florida hospice.
The patient was a 65-year-old drilling contractor, badly injured in a freak accident at his home. Among family members standing vigil at Brooke Army Medical Center was a grieving junior congressman — Rep. Tom DeLay, R- Texas.
More than 16 years ago, far from the political passions that have defined the Schiavo controversy, the DeLay family endured its own wrenching, end-of-life crisis. The man in a coma, kept alive by intravenous lines and a ventilator, was DeLay's father, Charles Ray DeLay.
Tom DeLay waited all but helpless for the verdict of doctors.
Today, as House majority leader, he has teamed with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to champion political intervention in the Schiavo case. DeLay pushed emergency legislation through Congress to shift the legal case from Florida state courts to the federal judiciary.
And he is among the strongest advocates of keeping the woman, who doctors say has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, connected to her feeding tube. DeLay has denounced Schiavo's husband, as well as judges, for committing what he calls "an act of barbarism" in removing the tube.
In 1988, however, there was no such fiery rhetoric as the congressman joined the sad family consensus to let his father die.
"There was no point to even really talking about it," Maxine DeLay, 81, the congressman's mother, recalled last week. "There was no way he (Charles) wanted to live like that. Tom knew, we all knew, his father wouldn't have wanted to live that way."
Doctors advised that he would "basically be a vegetable," said the congressman's aunt, JoAnne DeLay.
When the man's kidneys failed, the DeLay family decided against connecting him to a dialysis machine. "Extraordinary measures to prolong life were not initiated," said his medical report, citing "agreement with the family's wishes." His chart carried the instruction: "Do Not Resuscitate."
On Dec. 14, 1988, the senior DeLay "expired with his family in attendance."
"The situation faced by the congressman's family was entirely different than Terri Schiavo's," said Dan Allen, a spokesman for DeLay, who declined requests for an interview. "The only thing keeping her alive is the food and water we all need to survive. His father was on a ventilator and other machines to sustain him."
There also were these similarities: Both stricken patients were severely brain damaged. Both were incapable of surviving without continuing medical assistance. Both were said to have expressed a desire to be spared life sustained by machine. And neither left a living will.
This previously unpublished account of the majority leader's personal brush with life-ending decisions was assembled from court files, medical records and interviews with family members.
On Nov. 17, 1988, Charles DeLay and his brother, Jerry DeLay, had just finished work on a new backyard tram — an elevator-like device to carry passengers from the house down a 200-foot slope to Canyon Lake.
But the tram, on a test run, jumped the track and slammed into a tree, scattering passengers and twisted debris.
Admission records at the medical center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio show Charles DeLay arrived with multiple injuries, including broken ribs and a brain hemorrhage.
Maxine DeLay agreed that she never was aware of any consciousness on her husband's part during the long days of her bedside vigil — with one possible exception.
"Whenever Randy walked into the room, his heart, his pulse rate would go up a little bit," she said of their son, Randall, the congressman's younger brother, who lives near Houston.
Doctors conducted a series of tests, but the procedures could not prevent steady deterioration.
Infections then complicated the senior DeLay's fight for life. His organs began to fail. The family and physicians confronted the dreaded choice: to make heroic efforts, or to let the end come.
"Daddy did not want to be a vegetable," said Alvina (Vi) Skogen, a former sister-in-law of the congressman. "There was no decision for the family to make. He made it for them."
The preliminary decision to withhold dialysis and other treatments fell to Maxine along with Randall and her daughter Tena. "Tom went along," his mother said.
Charles Ray DeLay died at 3:17 a.m., his death certificate says, 27 days after the accident.
The family then turned to lawyers. A wrongful-death suit against the distributor and maker of a coupling that the DeLays said caused the tram to hurtle out of control thrust the congressman into decidedly unfamiliar territory. He since has taken a leading role in reining in trial lawyers to protect business from what he calls "frivolous, parasitic lawsuits" that raise insurance premiums and "kill jobs."
Aides for DeLay defended his role as a plaintiff in the family lawsuit, saying he did not follow the legal case and was not aware of its final outcome.
The case was resolved in 1993 with payment of an undisclosed sum of about $250,000, according to sources familiar with an out-of-court settlement. DeLay signed over his share to his mother, DeLay aides said.
Today, Maxine DeLay acknowledges questions that compare her family's decision in 1988 to the Schiavo conflict today with a slight smile. "It's certainly interesting, isn't it?"
Like her son, she believes there might be hope for Terri Schiavo's recovery. That's what makes her family's experience different, she says. Charles had no hope.
"There was no chance he was ever coming back," she said.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.