Thursday, March 31, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 31

Guest: Harry Fisch, Thomas Williams, Jay Wolfson, Kendall Coffey, Harry Fisch, Thomas D. Williams


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The most famous man in the world is sick again. The most suddenly

famous woman in this country is finally at rest. Terri Schiavo, dead at

the age of 41. Pope John Paul II stricken by a urinary tract infection and

a high fever at the age of 84. The pope's sudden illness treated with

respect and quiet prayer around the world. Mrs. Schiavo's death, swirling

controversy, protest, and even what sound like a let threat against juniors

by the majority leader of the United States Congress.

Tonight, live from Vatican City, live from Florida, live from MSNBC headquarters, full coverage of the continuing illness of a pope and the death of a symbol. Now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening, they are intertwined by more than just a coincidence of timing. The death of an ordinary and until recently, an almost anonymous woman in an obscure place called Pinellas Park, Florida, and the endangered life of a most extraordinary and almost universally identifiable man in the hallowed and legendary place called the Vatican.

Tonight, the controversy may continue, but if nothing else, at least Terri Schiavo's suffering is at an end. We will cover the events of her final day at length, shortly.

We start our fifth story. Pope John Paul II, whose condition changed sharply in the early hours of the Italian morning. By 11:00 p.m. there, 4:00 p.m. on this countries East Coast, the Vatican was confirming that he had, "a high fever." By 2:00 a.m., though, Italian news agencies were reporting a first positive reaction to antibiotics. And a pope whose condition was "stable." The cause of that fever given officially by the Vatican as a urinary tract infection.

Earlier one Italian news agency reported that John Paul's blood pressure had also fallen. Other news agencies there and here reporting with scare headlines that he had been given the last rites, not explaining that they are know called the sacrament for the sick. And in of themselves no longer carry the implication that they used to have of imminent death. This turn for the worse in his condition, and possible turn back, coming just a day after he had begun receiving nutrition via a feeding tube through his nose.

Our correspondent Chris Jansing is in Rome on this extraordinary night.

Chris, good even. Good morning.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. Good morning to you, Keith.

This clearly is a very disturbing progression for the pope who has been hospitalized twice in the last two months for a total of 28 days. Who has had two fairly serious procedures. The tracheotomy of course to put in the breathing tube, and just a couple of days ago, the feeding tube. So you have someone who is 84-years-old with Parkinson's. He is very frail. The last two time we saw him on Wednesday, and before that on Sunday, he tried to speak and then could not.

SO, he is someone who is in a precarious position. Since I've been here 10 or 11 days, all the Vatican officials have told me their most serious concern was that in this weakened state, he might face some kind of infection. That is exactly what is happening tonight. So, cause for real concern here at the Vatican.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's Chris Jansing in Rome. Great thanks, we'll be checking back with you at about the bottom of the hour.

As we mentioned, the health of the pope converging in a remarkable way for a second straight day, with the health of a Florida women some 5,200 miles. After exactly 15 years, one - one month and six days of hospitalization, just shy of two weeks since her feeding tube had been removed, Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo died at about 9:00 Eastern time this morning in her hospice bed with her husband, but none of her blood relatives at her side.

That dispute making it clear, the controversy over Mrs. Schiavo will not end with her death. Advisers for her parents complaining that her brother and sister were not there at the moment of her passing, because Michael Schiavo would not let them in the room. Mr. Schiavo lawyer disputing that account totally. Saying that after Terri's brother began arguing with a law enforcement official, his client became concerned, a potentially explosive situation would not allow his wife to die in peace.


GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S LAWYER: Mr. Schiavo's overriding concern was, Mrs. Schiavo has a right and had a right to die with dignity, and die in peace. She had a right to have her last and final moments on this earth be experienced a spirit of love and not of acrimony.


OLBERMANN: Hours later, her blood relatives addressed the media, making no mention of the dispute and coming instead to terms with Terri's death.


BOBBY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S BROTHER: A member of family, unable to stand under your own power, you stood with a grace and dignity - a dignity that made your family proud. Terri, we love you dearly, but we know that God loves you more than we do. We must accept your untimely death as God's will.


OLBERMANN: At this hour in Pinellas Park, many of the protesters who have turned the area outside Mrs. Schiavo's hospice into a staging area, have decamped, at least for the time being, to a nearby church for a memorial service organized by the Schindler's advisers. What they plan to do next, one of many questions left unanswered, as of yet, in the wake of Mrs. Schiavo's death.

Mark Potter has been our own continual presence outside that hospice and he joins us now.

Mark, good evening.

MARK POTTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: First, is it clear yet what actually happened at Mrs.

Schiavo's death bed at the time of her passing this morning?

POTTER: Well, as you - as you said, there are a couple of versions of that. George Felos said that, Michael Schiavo did not want to have any sort of acrimony in the room. That Bobby Schindler had a dispute with the police officer right before Terri Schiavo died. He escorted him out of the room. I mean, nobody here believes that the two were going to be in the room at the same time anyway. They hadn't been all along. And it seemed highly unlikely to us observers out here, that they would be there at the moment of death. Is that an excuse or not, we don't know.

One thing that's interesting, George Felos seemed to blame some of this on Father Frank Pavone who had made some rough statements about Michael Schiavo the day before. He was also with Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Vitadamo, the sister when they were in the room. And George Felos says, maybe if it weren't for him, Michael Schiavo would have allowed the brother and sister to stay.

Is that a convenient scapegoat? We don't know. We'll never know. But what we do know for sure is that the acrimony that they were preventing in the room certainly happened in the hall way, and is likely to continue.

OLBERMANN: But the absence of the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, that was purely logistics? That has been established?

POTTER: That's what we understand. They were not in this area and they - they were, we want to be clear, allowed to go in shortly afterward. After Michael Schiavo had been there. We saw a very stricken Mary Schindler being escort over, Bob Schindler, and the brother and sister. They were allow to spend some time to embrace Terri Schiavo after her death. And then they left shortly their afterward and then the medical examiner came afterwards.

OLBERMANN: Mark, to the scene behind you there, where does that energy, even the anger, of the protesters go now?

POTTER: The anger, by the way, has dissipated, Keith. I'll go ahead and addressed that first. Everybody here is pretty somber. There were some angry statement that were made this afternoon. But there was an interesting juxtaposition at the same time the memorial service. Service were beginning. The gentility was returning. And that's pretty much the scene we have now.

There are a few people left here. We don't know where they're going to go. Many will return to their home states. They traveled from far and wide to come here. Many are going to the memorial services. The rougher elements will probably try to find the next camera position to stand in front of. The truly faithful will be here through the weekend and probably will attend the service with the family. That's expected next week, a Catholic service. But it is hard to know where the rest will go.

OLBERMANN: It is, at least, nice to hear you say, that it seems like some of that anger is gone. Mark Potter, who's been covering this throughout in Pinellas Park, as always sir, great thanks.

POTTER: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: The politicians who have involved themselves in this family saga, are also unlikely to step immediately aside with the passing of Terri Schiavo. President Bush and his brother Governor Jeb Bush of Florida making it clear today, they would like the end of Mrs. Schiavo's life to mark the beginning of a new agenda.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge all those who honor Terri Schiavo to continue to work to build a culture of life. Where all American are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those who live at the mercy of others.

GOV. JEB BUSH, FLORIDA: This issue transcends politics, to be honest. I think she will be - her experience will heighten awareness of the importance of families dealing with end of life issues. And that is an incredible legacy.


OLBERMANN: The president and the governor earning bipartisan praise for their tone of restraint, not so Tom DeLay. Issuing a statement shortly after Mrs. Schiavo's death, the House majority leader said quote, "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."

And well before today's announcement of the deterioration of the pope's health, a Vatican cardinal denouncing the removal of her feeding tube.

Portuguese cardinal, Jose Saraiva Martins, saying "An attack against life is an attack against God who is the author of life."


OLBERMANN: Much more on the politics of Terri Schiavo with Howard Fineman about half an hour hence. The rhetoric, of course, was not limited to one side of the schism over Mrs. Schiavo, but the neutrality was extremely limited. However, about an hour ago, I got to speak with, for the second time in a week, the man appointed by a Florida court to be its eyes and ears, and the eyes of ears of Florida Governor Bush in the Schiavo case two years ago. For 30 days, Jay Wolfson, a man with both medical and legal degrees, investigated the case and the patient, spending parts of 20 days at her bedside.


OLBERMANN: Professor Wolfson, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: First of all, obviously, your reaction to Mrs. Schiavo's death this morning.

WOLFSON: Oh, it was heart-breaking, absolutely heart-wrenching, I've got to tell you. Despite what we all expected, having spent some time with her and trying to get to know her and her family, I can only imagine the pain that the Schindlers, particularly Mary and Michael, who I believe loved her, went through these past 15 years, and the additional heart break of having her die.

OLBERMANN: You are one of the few people qualified, I think, to speak about all parties in this case with anything approaching authority, and you just linked two people who are generally seen as permanent and hostile enemies. Is reconciliation among the Schiavos and Schindlers possible at this point, in your opinion?

WOLFSON: You know, Keith, the hope that both of those parties brought these last 15 years to Terri and the love that they shared with her and for her and about her, it was all based on something positive. If there is no hope, then what do we have left? I don't know that they can reconcile. But to say - to rule it out entirely, you know, this is their lives. They have to move forward with their live, and we hopefully have learned some things through Terri, and about Terri, about ourselves.

OLBERMANN: When we spoke earlier, you talk about the assessment that, if people did not want to believe the medical data, that they wouldn't. And all the medical data in the world wouldn't make a difference. We're now facing, although we won't have the results immediately, we're now facing an autopsy. Will it be conclusive or helpful or ignored?

WOLFSON: I think people are going to think and believe what they wish to believe. That's human nature. I have tremendous faith and confidence in the medical examiner of Pinellas County. I know him. I think that he is an exceptionally qualified pathologist. He is very focused, he's incredibly well-qualified, and I think an expert job in doing an autopsy.

I think it's probably a helpful thing for medicine and science that it be done, but whatever the results are, one way or the other, people are going - likely to continue to believe what they wish. And again, we have to get back to this having been about Terri. And not about these other parties.

OLBERMANN: Do you know - is there anything that you can say, authoritative from your research, obviously, it would not have been the case from your visitations for 20 days to her bed two years ago - but, do you have an idea, from what you knew of who this woman was, what her impression would have been of this political controversy that has mushroomed and exploded and enveloped and grown and grown and grown with unbelievable force, and continues to even in these hours after her death? Do you have any idea?

WOLFSON: I did learn about Terri from all the people who cared about her, from the pictures she drew, from the people who spent time with her, was that she was a quiet, shy, but fun-loving girl. She, I think, would have been appalled at the rift that occurred between her parents and her husband. She loved them both very much. And, I think she would have been astonished to have her partially clad body displayed all over television and the newspapers. She was a shy girl, basically, and I don't think she would have been very happy about that.

OLBERMANN: And, yet, somewhere in the middle of this, as you said, people have forgotten that it really is about the death of a young woman who has been in a hospital and a hospice for 15 years.

Professor Jay Wolfson, of the University of South Florida, formerly the court-appointed guardian-at-law for the late Terri Schiavo. Great - thanks for your time, sir.

WOLFSON: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: The bitter dispute between Terri Schiavo's blood relatives and her husband, now inspiring hatred, death threats against members of Michael Schiavo's family, including one on tape.

And, one of the arguments still being made by politicians, hours after the passing of Terri Schiavo, is that she was somehow cheated of her due process rights. We will examine exactly what kind of legal representation and due process she had over the past 12 years. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The legal battle between the Schindlers and the Schiavos did not end at the hospice in Florida early this morning. It could play out in civil court, perhaps for years. That, and the latest on the pope, live from Rome, next.


OLBERMANN: Continuing to track the troubled health of Pope John Paul II and the impact of this death this morning of Terri Schiavo. That impact might be most easily measured by years in court: 12 of them now.

Our number four story in the Countdown tonight: is there any reason the believe that Terri Schiavo's death will bring those legal battles to an end? Some may be moot; others may be just beginning. Meanwhile, the animosity and invective this long private and public engendered, continuing to cross all bounds of decency. Today, Scott Schiavo, Michael Schiavo's brother, played for reporters what, to some, would sound like a death threat, the caller even identifying himself by name, and Mr. Schiavo has provided that information to authorities. Here's part of the tape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone of you (EXPLETIVE) Schiavos are no tra - are dead trash. And, you know, time will come. Time will come for all of us, for all of us, time will come. And I wonder which way you'll get to go when time does come?


OLBERMANN: The message included a string of profanities, specifically designed - directed at Michael Schiavo and his girlfriend and his children, but the caller also said, "you'll have to live with it for the rest of your life." Whether or not police classify message as a an actual death threat, Scott Schiavo seemed hardened to it..


SCOTT SCHIAVO, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S BROTHER: These idiots don't scare me, they don't scare me one bit. They're knocking on the wrong door, because it's not going to - you know, somebody shows up to my door, they're in for a long day. They better bring a lunch with them, because it's, you know - I'm not going to deal with it.


OLBERMANN: Mr. Schiavo also expressed compassion for the Schindlers as a family, and said that his sister-in-law was finally at peace.

But peace seems to be the last thing being granted to these families right now, and whether the Schiavos and the Schindlers will now stop fighting each other in court is at best a guess.

Joining me now, Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Mr. Coffey, good evening. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: If the Schindlers wanted to continue a legal battle, do they have options to do so at this point?

COFFEY: There are some limited options. Even they can't know at this

point. I'm sure they're so overwhelmed with grief, and the last thing

anyone wants to be talking about is still more lawsuits. But there are

several different alternative vehicles if what they want to do is test and

get a vindication for their beliefs in Terri's death that they were not

able to secure in her life.rMDNM_

OLBERMANN: In some way, has Mrs. Schiavo's death actually expanded the kinds of claims that they could make in court without perhaps increasing their chances of winning in court?

COFFEY: Well, ironically, this now has passed to a different stage legally. That is, there will now be a probate estate. And strange as it may seem, one of the options that someone at some point will tell them to consider, right or wrong, is whether or not they want to invoke a particular provision of Florida law called a slayer statute.

It's in many states' laws, Keith, and what it means basically, if someone could show that Michael Schiavo intentionally and unlawfully caused the killing of Terri Schiavo, then he would basically forfeit any possible interest in her estate and obviously lose an ability to be the executor of the estate, personal representative. That may sound extreme, but there are assuredly people out there who have been making that very allegation with respect to Michael Schiavo.

OLBERMANN: And relative to Mr. Schiavo's potential legal rights, he has been accused of abusing his wife. You just mentioned the slayer statute. He's been called an out-and-out killer. Given that he has 12 years of court findings that go against that, or in some cases refute that, to say nothing of what might come out of the upcoming government autopsy, does he ever any legal recourse against those who say he has done those things?

COFFEY: Well, certainly he's won so many rulings that that is creating an awful lot of insulation for him with respect to any future legal issues. In terms of I'm sure what he considers to be the way he's been attacked and criticized, and he would even say defamed and slandered, I have got to tell you, it would be very tough for him to succeed in those kind of cases, because in large part, he's probably become what the law would call "limited public figure," exposing himself to a lot of different allegations unless someone can show actual malice.

Now, that doesn't mean anyone has got any business threatening him, either physically or through the mails or voicemail. That's a totally different matter. But whether Michael Schiavo is going to be able to successfully bring some kind of slander or defamation case, very, very difficult in all likelihood.

OLBERMANN: Finally, and briefly, are all of the non-civil cases moot? Are they gone now? Or is there some prosecutor somewhere who might say, there might be something we can do here?

COFFEY: Well, I think the non-civil cases are largely resolved. They're not moot in the technical sense. If a prosecutor thought abuse had occurred, or anything else, that hasn't been extinguished. But I think for all intents and purpose, everything that we've seen up to now in the litigation is basically mooted.

OLBERMANN: Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney with the Southern District of Florida. Once again, thanks for joining us and for your insight tonight.

COFFEY: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For two weeks now, the Schindler family has been surrounded by a phalanx of signs and political messages. Are both families now just pawns in a bigger political game? And will Terri Schiavo herself in death become the rallying point for new right-to-life legislation throughout the country? Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Pope John Paul II's health takes a certain turn for the worse, and then a possible turn for the better. He has a high fever, is being treated for a urinary infection with antibiotics. One Italian news agency saying, the antibiotics are already showing signs of working.

We'll go live to the Vatican for the very latest.

In Florida, Terri Schiavo dies in the early morning of her 13th day without food or water. Now, attention turning to Congress, which has taken the unusual step of having passed a law in her name nearly two weeks ago.

Now that she has passed away, can we expect the political storm to also go? You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: One of our caveman ancestors probably figured this out first, existence boiling down to life and death. Today, a remarkable convergence of news events: the death of Terri Schiavo, which we will resume examination - examining, rather, in the next half-hour. And, of course, again, our third story on the Countdown, the sudden worsening of the health of Pope John Paul II.

For the latest, we go again, in the middle of the Italian night, to our correspondent Chris Jansing in Rome.

Chris, hello again.

JANSING: Hello, Keith.

It is 3:30 in the morning and we are hearing indeed that the antibiotics seem to be working on Pope John Paul II and his urinary tract infection. In fact, the description given to an Italian news agency is that he is stable. Even all that said, if it working, if he is getting better, at least from this high fever that was the result of the infection, there's no one inside the Vatican who is close to the pope who will not acknowledge that we are now dealing with a very different situation than we've seen with Pope John Paul II previously.

He is, what many are people are describing as, in a persistent state, or a permanent state of precarious health. It is not going to change that he is an 84-year-old man who is stricken by a fairly advanced case of Parkinson's disease. He still does have a breathing tube and a feeding tube. Having said that, they have gone through great pains, even as recently as this afternoon, to say the pope is still very lucid. He is in charge. He did accept the resignation of a United States bishop from Providence today. Accepting a resignation or appointing a bishop is one of those things that only a pope can do.

Now, let me point out, behind me, I'm sure you see the flashing blue lights. Many of the cars have moved away, but this is something that is typically seen at this time of night. St. Peter's Square does close down at 10:00 for security reasons and opens up again at dawn. But, they are expecting a fairly large crowd. This still spring break time, it's a very busy time for tourists here. The last few time we saw the pope, there are 110,000, and 40,000 people. Maybe not that many tomorrow, but surely there will be people in the Square, praying and hoping that, if the pope can't see them, he at least is told of their presence. Keith?

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's Chris Jansing at the Vatican. Again, great, thanks.

One other breaking development, not as hugely substantial but perhaps relevant and informative for you, coming from an Austrian news agency, A.P.A. quoting one of the potential, subsequent popes, the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Kristof Schaumburg, as telling that news agency that this pope was, quote, "approaching, as far as a person can tell, the end of his life." Cardinal Kristof Schaumburg, but that was before this report that the antibiotics had already had some positive impact.

Sunrise, obviously, in the Vatican, a few hours away. The start of the business day would be about 2:00 a.m. eastern. Until then, we may not know anything more. But, we have what the Vatican said before, the lights literally went off in the papal apartments around 5:00 p.m. eastern. That the pope has an infection of the urinary tract, that he has a high fever - one report had it at 104 - that they are treating it there - there are no plans to hospitalize him again - that antibiotics are being prescribed and, unofficially, he may already have shown some improvement, because of it - that he has also reportedly received the sacrament of the sick, the modernized version of last rites but without the implication of imminent mortality.

With that, we try to diagnose the man's health. Joining us now, Dr. Harry Fisch, professor of urology at Columbia University Medical Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Fisch, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Put those components together with what we all know about the pope's general health and his recent health problems, and tell me how sick you think this patient is.

FISCH: Well, you know, a urinary tract infection, such as what the pope has, can be serious. He has a temperature of 104, as you said. But he is receiving antibiotics and it is one of those disorders that can be easily treatable. It is not something that necessarily he will succumb to.

OLBERMANN: So, obviously, if the reports about the antibiotics having an immediate effect are valid, this is clearly the right treatment. But how exactly would we know? Is the temperature the key thing to watch? And what next step do you take if you find out that you need a next step?

FISCH: Well, actually, a temperature in medicine in general is very, very important, and specifically with an infection of the urinary system, the prostate is probably what's the source of the infection, although it's hard to say. It could easily be the kidneys as well, but it's most likely to be the prostate. With that, the antibiotic therapy, if you see a decrease in the temperature is very, very important. As well, he is probably talking to his colleagues there, and everybody, and that's a good sign.

If it takes a turn for the worse, which I doubt, because, once the temperature does go down, that's a great sign. But if it takes the turn for the worse, you have to be worried about some sort of an abscess formation and some sort of a collection developing. But as I say, I'm not sure that that is what's happening.

OLBERMANN: The suddenness of the illness, 8:00 p.m. or so, local time. There's a Vatican source saying, yes, he's doing well, and 10:00, the news agencies are saying he's worsening. 11:00, they say, yes, formally, he's on antibiotics, high fever. Does the rapidity worry you, or is that - it sounds like that's pretty much this process for this kind of infection in this kind of aged patient.

FISCH: Well, it's hard to get information about a specific individual, especially the pope. The media coverage is sparse. It's not necessarily the best information.

OLBERMANN: It's black and white: you either get - he's either perfect or on death's door. There's nothing in between.

FISCH: That's right. And in this particular case, a prostate infection or a urinary tract infection is easily treatable. It's the sort of thing that happens a lot in the hospitals, and particularly in elderly men who are more susceptible to this. The treatment for it is pretty straightforward. So now, the thing is he does have other illnesses, and when you have other illness, you could succumb to any infection, even if it's a minor infection. But again, with the temperature going down, it appears to be something that is very treatable.

OLBERMANN: Last question: we had the co-developer of the feeding tube on this news hour last night. He talked about one risk with the nasal kind, the kind the pope received yesterday, was infection. Is there potentially a link between tube and the infection?

FISCH: Any time there's a tube in the body, there's a potential for infection. An infection in the nose, an infection in the trachea, however, there is absolutely no connection between the insertion of that feeding tube and a urinary tract infection.

OLBERMANN: Excellent information. Dr. Harry Fisch, clinical urologist at Columbia New York Presbyterian. Great - thanks for your time tonight.

FISCH: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: For the faithful, the pope's health has been a concern, if not a crisis, ever since the day in 1981 when he was shot by a would-be assassin. But these last few weeks have obviously taken a more extraordinary toll still, on father and flock alike. We go back to Rome now, where I am joined by Reverend Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at the Pontifical University there, and also an MSNBC analyst. Reverend Williams, great thanks for your time this morning.


OLBERMANN: I find myself wondering, tonight, how many Catholics there are today, who have no recollection of 1978 when Pope Paul was sick for so long and Pope John Paul I lived for just over a month in that position. How do you think the members of the religion have been affect by this series of health crises?

WILLIAMS: Well, as you say, for many Catholics, Keith, Pope John Paul II is the only pontiff they've known in their entire lives, at least in their adult lives. I think, for many, this is very tough. Many people have come to associate the Catholic faith with Pope John Paul II, his strong leadership, his presence throughout the world. This is no doubt a tough moment for many, many Catholics.

OLBERMANN: Has the administration and leadership of the church been affected? If these last two months are precursors of months and even years ahead, is that manageable? Does it change the Vatican into a one-track, even a morbid place?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's definitely a sadder place. It is almost like, in the summers, when the pope goes off Castelgandolfo for his summer retreat for a month or so, everything quiets down. You get sense that the place is a little bit vacant; the pope isn't here. And you're getting that now, too, although the Holy See has taken great pains to assure us that the Holy Father is still able to oversee those particular decisions that only he can make, that he is still on a daily basis spending several hours going through those papers and decisions that he has to make.

So, I think for the moment, we have the assurance that he is still at the helm, and still able to make those decision.

OLBERMANN: A procedural question for you: widely reported now that the pope was given the last rites. If anything in the Catholic Church is bigger than the Catholic Church, it is that phrase, "last rites." The headlines have been in news organizations, have really been dramatic in that sense. Explain for us, the sacrament of the sick and how it differs in tone, at least, from what was commonly known as the "last rites."

WILLIAMS: Well, it's the same sacrament, but the name was changed for the Second Vatican Council. And the second was opened up to anyone who is sick in a serious way. In other words, it doesn't have to be given right before a person dies. It can be given any time during a major sickness, when a person is bedridden, and the idea is to prepare that person for facing that sickness, to give that person strength and give that person courage. And I think that we shouldn't associate it necessarily with a death bed sacrament the way it was in the past, but really a sacrament given for those who are in serious sickness, that they will have that strength.

OLBERMANN: After all, the last time he was in fact administered those rites, 1981, 24 years ago. Reverend Thomas D. Williams of the Pontifical University in Rome, our great thanks for joining us live tonight from the Vatican.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Back to the other major story of the night, the death of Terri Schiavo and the politics involved. The House majority leader today observing that, quote, "the men responsible will have to answer for their behavior."

Plus how it all actually got to this stage. The dozens of court cases and desperate appeals and now the accusations that Terri Schiavo's legal rights were violated. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: The polls were all overwhelming against the involvement of Congress in the Terri Schiavo case. But will the politicians still use her death to further or fight a broader right-to-life agenda? Stand by.


OLBERMANN: As we continue to watch the health of Pope John Paul II and update you in the event of the slightest change, we pause now for our No. 2 story on the Countdown and the political change contained within the human story of the death of Mrs. Terri Schiavo.

First and last on this was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. It was at his urging that Congress convened an emergency session earlier in the month to produce a bill designed to allow a federal court to immediately review Florida Judge George Greer's order to remove her feeding tube. Today came the remark that will no doubt haunt him. "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

Despite the president cutting short a trip to Crawford to sign the legislation, the federal court in question did not quite see things Congress' way. A move that today DeLay and congressional leaders said they would work to rectify.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: The legal system failed Terri Schiavo. We all failed Terri Schiavo. The one major responsibility of a government is to protect innocent, vulnerable people from being preyed upon, or in this case, their life taken from them.

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We have judges that are stepping forward and legislating from the bench, and going beyond their constitutional role and their proper duty, that is given to them by the U.S. Congress and by the U.S. Constitution. And so we have an obligation to step in and say that these men are not acting appropriately, take them to task, and perhaps, take some of them and haul them before the U.S. Congress and impeach them.


OLBERMANN: This against the backdrop of a majority of Americans being opposed to government intervention in the case. And yet as we have seen, it's not over.

What's happening now? Again, let's turn to "Newsweek" magazine's chief political correspondent, NBC News analyst Howard Fineman. Good evening, Howard.


OLBERMANN: I guess we'd have to start with Tom DeLay. He got the Congress involved. He got the bill passed and he made this remarkable statement about the judges today.

But politically, he said he failed her. He failed to get it done.

What is the lasting impact on him and what he tried to represent here?

FINEMAN: Well, I think he is going to be one of the people leading the crusade by conservatives, Republicans, to change the courts, to push for the conservative judges that President Bush has nominated and renominated, to fight in the Supreme Court for right to life and limited government judges, to change the jurisdiction of the federal courts, perhaps, to institute terms for judges and not lifetime seats for judges. Wholesale attack by the congressional branch on the judicial branch, and Tom DeLay sees his future, and perhaps even his political survival in being one of the leaders of that crusade.

OLBERMANN: Did - conversely on this - did the Democrats weasel out by giving this bill just enough support, and did they try to finesse the whole thing like in the months before the Iraq war?

FINEMAN: I think to some extent, yes. I think they can take some comfort from the fact that the polls do show that most Americans thought it was wrong for Congress to try to intervene in this situation. But they shouldn't be too self-satisfied, because I think a lot of Americans also weren't pleased with the spectacle that went on down there. And if they don't blame the courts, they certainly think that more attention needs to be paid to the whole question of the right to life and the right to die. And that means there's going to be a push for federal legislation. And the Democrats may not be on the side of that that they want to be on.

OLBERMANN: On that, in terms of policy, is the legislation idea really going to carry, or could we take a hint from President Bush, who essentially appeared to sign that legislation out of nowhere in the middle of his vacation, then disappeared until today. There was just no word - there were no sightings of him in the interim. It was as if he wanted to stay as far away from this story as possible. Are people on both sides of the political aisle thinking to some degree they got burned by even getting near this?

FINEMAN: To some extent, yes. But the Republicans and conservatives are going to put all their energy into the judicial crusade that I was discussing before.

It's not quite clear where the Democrats are going to go with this. They're going to fight against the judicial proposals and the nominations of the Republicans, but it's not clear what proposal they're willing to put forth about rules on right to live and right to die, which right now are the province of the states. Are the Democrats going to want to push that? I'm not sure. I don't think the Republicans are initially. I think all the Republican energy is going to be channeled from the Schiavo drama, into this crusade on the judges, which is about to begin in the Senate within the next week.

OLBERMANN: As close to a yes or no answer as possible on this. Can you think of any time in the last 100 years, when legislative or executive has taken on judicial and not gotten its butt kicked?

FINEMAN: The answer is no. They usually do, but this may an different situation. Because in the intervening decades, the judiciary has taken on such a larger role, almost a legislative role in our lives. And that's what sort of invited this contest that's about to take place.

OLBERMANN: We'll see if they do better than FDR did.

Howard Fineman chief political correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, as always, sir, thanks for your time.

FINEMAN: Sure, Keith.

OLBERMANN: From the legislative to the judicial. The accusation that Terri Schiavo whose case went before more than 20 different judges never received due process. Standby.


OLBERMANN: As word of Terri Schiavo's death spread this morning, a flurry of statements were released by politicians who have largely succeeded in transforming her from an ordinary woman into an issue martyr.

Our number one story on the Countdown tonight, one statement in particular caught our attention, that by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum who was in Pinellas Park earlier this week thanking protesters there. Here an excerpt.

"In California, Scott Peterson a convicted murder was sentenced to death, yet his constitutional rights were upheld to ensure that he received due process and fair consideration in court. Terri Schiavo was given a death sentence and passed away without the right to due process."

It is a dramatic and compelling charge, but factually, it doesn't seem to hold any water.

Countdown's Monica Novotny joins me now with what seems an almost endless process of due process.

Monica, good evening.


The family's bitter disagreement over Terri Schiavo's fate sent them to the courts, where in 1993, the Schindler's attempted to have Michael Schiavo removed as their daughter's guardian. That case was dismissed, but was only the beginning of their lengthy legal battle. Was justice served, well that depends on who you ask.


GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO'S ATTORNEY: Not only the courts of Florida, but the courts of the United States of America have given tremendous deference and respect for the right of life.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Michael Schiavo's attorney today confident Terri Schiavo was treated fairly by the courts, but protesters disagree, as does Senator Santorum.

SANTORUM: There is no federal review for a sentence by a trial court which is tantamount to a death sentence where there's a dispute as to whether her due process rights were protected.

NOVOTNY: Was there due process for Terri Schiavo? You decide.

In February of 2000, a Florida state court approved Michael Schiavo's request to have his wife's feeding tube removed, the Schindlers appealed.

In April of 2001, the Florida state and U.S. Supreme Courts refused to intervene. Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. Two days later, a different judge ordered it reinserted.

The next year, Michael Schiavo again sought permission to remove the feeding tube. In October 2003, it was removed for the second time. Then Florida Governor Jeb Bush stepped in to override the court order passing Terri's law.

Terri's law declared unconstitutional in September 2004.

This February, Judge Greer granted permission for the feeding tube to be withdrawn again.

Congress in a bid to prolong her life, subpoenas Terri Schiavo to appear at hearing. Florida courts ignored that, and her feeding tube was removed for a third time on March 18.

FELOS: It was an emotional occasion, prayers were said at the time and the feeding tube was removed without - without incident.

NOVOTNY: Then Congress stepped in, passing a law in the early morning hours of March 21, allowing Terri Schiavo's parents to seek a federal court review.

REP. TOM DELAY (R), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: If we do not act, she will die of thirst. However helpless, Mr. Speaker, she is alive.

NOVOTNY: President Bush signed the measure. But a day later, a federal judge declined to order a reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Lawyers for her parents appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. They were denied.

MARY SCHINDLER: Please, someone out there stop this cruelty. Stop the insanity! Please let my daughter live.

NOVOTNY: The Schindlers continued to fight, turning twice more to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected their final emergency request to reinsert her feeding tube the night before Terri Schiavo's death.


NOVOTNY: Terri Schiavo's case passed before more than 20 judges, and at different times three court appointed guardians served as advocates on her behalf, including Jay Wolfson who appeared on this program earlier this evening.

Mr. Wolfson said on this topic, "Honest people are going to differ about their opinions. You're either going to believe the facts that's been accepted by the courts or you're not" - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny, many thanks.

One more thing tonight about words. The early reporting about the early death of Terri Schiavo said that she expired at 9:05 Eastern time this morning. Later, other news organizations reported it was 9:02 Eastern. Finally, Michael Schiavo's attorney announced it was around 9:00 Eastern.

It seems trivial, beyond having any meaning - that is it's meaning. The time someone died by routine and tradition that can barely be explained, the centerpiece of any news story, the thing the reporter tries to include first and that the reader or viewer assumes they will get to the second, meant nothing to Terri Schiavo or Michael Schiavo or the Schindlers or to anybody else who called this woman "wife" "daughter" "sister" "friend."

The time of death say detail of a story. To the Schiavos and the Schindlers, it's extraneous just like all the other parts of the story you and I tell and hear. To them, the story is very simple, today, sometime this morning, Terri Schiavo died. That's Countdown.

MSNBC's coverage of the death of Terri Schiavo and the illness of Pope John Paul II continues throughout the evening. Next up, a special edition of "THE ABRAMS REPORT" with Dan Abrams, of course. I'm Keith Olbermann, thanks for joining us. From us, good night and good luck.