HARRISBURG -- Regardless of what his critics say, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum insists he did the right thing by visiting brain-damaged Terri Schiavo in Florida before she died March 31.
The autopsy showed Schiavo's brain had atrophied to less than half its normal size and that she was irreversibly brain-damaged and beyond treatment, as her husband, Michael, had claimed in seeking to have her disconnected from a feeding tube.
Social, religious and political conservatives had disputed Michael's desire to take Terri, 41, off life support. Her mother and father went to court in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.
"I absolutely do not regret going there," said Santorum, a conservative Republican who faces a difficult race for a third term next year.
"I stood up for what I believe was right in defending a disabled person from being executed. I don't think we should execute disabled people who have not expressed their desire as to how they should be handled, how their life should be dealt with.
"I don't think we should end their life simply because they are disabled. That's a very telling thing about a society that is willing to say that because they are not someone that is normal in the eyes of the world, that they have a life not worth living."
The Schiavo case was difficult because she hadn't left a living will or other written instructions about what she wanted done if she became incapacitated.
"Had I not gone down there, there would have been some who would have criticized me for not going," said Santorum, who likely will face a re-election challenge next year from Democratic state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr.
What about critics who complained that he was engaged in a political show by visiting Schiavo?
"Oh yeah, that was a great political show, to go down there when the polls were showing that [getting involved with Schiavo] was something the Congress shouldn't have done," he replied, somewhat testily.
"I got involved in this case and I believe in this case," he said. "I still believe that if someone is given a death sentence by a state court ... that person's federal constitutional rights should be protected with a federal court review."
On other issues Santorum:
Said the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where alleged Islamic terrorists are being held, should not be closed, as some critics of President Bush have said.
"We need to protect the American people," he said, and releasing terrorists isn't the way to do it. He said the Cuba prison has better physical facilities for its inmates "than half the prisons in Pennsylvania."
Refused to discuss recent polls that have shown him as much as 14 points behind Casey. With 17 months to go before the November 2006 election, he said it's far too soon to worry about polls.
Wouldn't give a preference on which of three GOP candidates should be the party's choice for governor in 2006. Santorum said he's too focused on his race to worry about that.
Criticized Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee for refusing to discuss compromises or alternatives to reform the Social Security system.
"Democrats have made this a purely partisan political issue," he said. "They refuse to come to the table."
Santorum likes the idea of permitting private investment accounts for younger workers, proposed by Bush. Santorum said he's willing to discuss all Social Security bailout options except one -- there should be no reduction in benefits for workers who were born before 1950.