ORLANDO — Leading Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson believes that federal and state officials overreacted in the case of Terri Schiavo, a Pinellas County woman who died in 2005 as her husband and family battled over whether to keep her alive despite her vegetative state.
The case roiled the state of Florida and sparked an emotional national debate about the ethics, politics and spiritual significance of her life and death.
A well-regarded retired neurosurgeon, Carson earned national acclaim for performing delicate surgeries. But he has also surged atop the GOP presidential pack with the support of Christian voters nationwide who are drawn to his rags-to-riches life story, his books on spirituality and redemption and his frequent talk about his faith.
But on Friday, that reputation seemed to collide with his professional medical opinions.
At the request of her family, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush intervened and attempted to take custody of Schiavo. A Republican-controlled Congress also held a rare Palm Sunday session to pass a law that would have kept her alive. But federal courts struck down the law and Bush's intervention and Schiavo died shortly after the ruling.
After speaking at a Republican Party conference here on Friday, a reporter asked Carson what he thought of the infamous case — one that Bush speaks about occasionally as he mounts his own presidential campaign.
"We face those kinds of issues all the time and while I don't believe in euthanasia, you have to recognize that people that are in that condition do have a series of medical problems that occur that will take them out," he said. "Your job (as a doctor) is to keep them comfortable throughout that process and not to treat everything that comes up."
When the reporter asked whether Carson thought it was necessary for Congress to intervene, he said: "I don't think it needed to get to that level. I think it was much ado about nothing."
Allie Brandenburger, a Bush spokeswoman said he "has always advocated for a culture of preserving life. For him, being pro-life is not just about preventing deaths of the most vulnerable, but also about promoting human dignity and helping people preserve life. Governor Bush engaged on the issue and advocated for Terri Schiavo because he believes that when in doubt, it is important to err on the side of life."
In a memoir published last week, Bush recalled his first interactions with Schiavo's father, Robert Schindler, who asked him to intervene in an email sent in 2001.
"It was many months before I realized this letter was only the beginning of a very long, complicated, and controversial journey for her family and me," Bush wrote in his book, Reply All, an anthology of e-mails he received during his governorship.
Bush wrote that feedback about Schiavo peaked in his inbox shortly before her death in March 2005 when he received more than 16,000 emails about the situation.
Once the courts ruled against him, "there was nothing more we could do," Bush wrote. "At the end of the day, I knew in my heart I had done absolutely everything I could to save Terri."