WASHINGTON, D.C.—The most surprising aspect of the Terri Schiavo life-and-death struggle is the role of Congress as doctor. Members have been more than willing to invoke their professional credentials to issue their own medical/political opinions on her condition. Dr. Dave Weldon, the Republican congressman from Florida who spoke out in favor of keeping Terri alive, was quickly trumped by leading Congressional Doctor in Residence Bill Frist. Frist, the senate majority leader and a Bush stalwart, made his reputation with heart and lung transplants, and since being elected has stepped in more than once to help out when someone fell ill on the Hill.

All told, there are 12 medical doctors, three dentists, and three nurses in Congress. Not included in the following list is Dr. Howard Dean, head of the Democratic National Committee and former contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. He has attacked Frist’s remarks, stating they are not “medically sound.”

Dave Weldon, Florida Republican

“Please consider affording me the opportunity to personally evaluate Terri’s medical condition,” he wrote Terri’s husband Michael Schiavo Monday. “As a medical doctor, who on many occasions was involved in end-of-life decisions with my patients and their family members, I understand many of the issues involved.”

Bill Frist, Republican senator from Tennessee

After reviewing details of the case, he said Schiavo is “clearly responsive.”

Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, internist

He said Terri could improve “with proper treatment, now denied.”

Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, psychiatrist

“This poor woman and this poor family are being used as a political football, and these guys will do anything to push the point that they think is so important that they will invade this family’s privacy,” he told The New York Times. Commenting on Weldon, he added: “This is a guy who’s lost track of who he is.”

Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, family practitioner

“I don’t think you have to examine her,” he told the Times. “All you have to do is look at her on TV. Any doctor with any conscience can look at her and know that she does not have a terminal disease and know that she has some function.”

Vic Snyder, Arkansas Democrat, family practitioner (he voted for the bill that would keep Schiavo alive)

“I think we could make a mistake by thinking everybody with an MD somehow has all the answers in these situations,” he told the Associated Press. “I’m not sure it was the right vote,” Snyder told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “I was really torn, and I’m still not sure what is the best thing to do in this situation.” He added, “I wish that the family had somehow been able to work this out.”

Joe Schwarz, Michigan Republican, ear-nose-throat surgeon

Citing that Schiavo had no terminal illness, was not in grave danger of dying, and had “some remaining cognitive abilities,” he said: “There’s absolutely no indication under those circumstances, in my opinion, to remove her feeding tube.”

Michael Burgess,Texas Republican, obstetrician

“I support Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader DeLay in their efforts to save the life of Terri Schiavo,” he said, adding that “the right-to-life is something I stand firmly behind.” Burgess encouraged everyone to make a living will.

Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, pediatrician

“At what point do we draw the line on ending an innocent life?,” he asked. “Working in pediatrics, I have known children who were severely brain damaged at birth. Do we starve them to death as well? I have seen the bodies of children grow and develop while their minds do not. Shall they be starved to death as well?”

Two Texas house members did not vote on the Schiavo issue. Ron Paul, a Republican and a doctor, long known for his libertarian views, made no statement. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat and former registered nurse, was out of the country but issued a statement which said in part: “I am deeply troubled by this late-night maneuvering to adopt a bill that could fundamentally undermine end-of-life decisions that all Americans are entitled to . . . Doctors who have examined Ms. Schiavo have consistently said that she is in a persistent vegetative state. The only physicians who have stated that she is not in a persistent vegetative state are those that have viewed her via videotape.”

Johnson added: “It is particularly hypocritical that those that talk about the defense of marriage now want to interject the federal government between a husband and his wife on what is a personal family matter.”