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Attorney for husband of brain-damaged woman outraged

Thursday, October 23, 2003

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Legal scholars predicted Wednesday that Gov. Jeb Bush's intervention in a bitter right-to-die case involving a brain-damaged woman would be ruled unconstitutional, and her husband's attorney angrily complained the woman was "abducted from her deathbed."

"It is so repugnant to so many provisions of Florida's constitution, we are all certain that it will be overturned," said George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo.

Legal scholars also decried the move as an extraordinary end-run around the courts.

"In my view the bill is plainly unconstitutional," said University of Florida law professor Joseph Little.

Terri Schiavo, 39, has been in what doctors call a "persistent vegetative state" since 1990, when her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance. Her eyes are open, but doctors say she has no consciousness.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought to keep her alive and say she still could recover. Michael Schiavo contends that she told him she would rather die than be kept alive artificially, but her parents said they never heard her say anything like that.

She was transferred late Wednesday from Morton Plant Hospital, where she had been taken Tuesday to begin the process of reinserting a feeding tube that has been keeping her alive since 1990. Pat Anderson, the Schindlers' attorney, said the patient was taken back to the hospice that cared for her several years.

Schiavo, 39, was being fed through a tube inserted into her abdomen when family members, fighting an epic battle to keep her alive, visited late Wednesday, said Anderson.

Her feeding tube was removed by court order last Wednesday at the insistence of her husband. The case is one of the nation's longest and most contentious right-to-die cases, pitting members of the same family against one another.

On Tuesday, the legislature rushed through a bill designed to save Schiavo's life, and Bush quickly invoked the law and ordered the feeding tube reinserted.

A hospital then began giving the woman fluids intravenously to prepare her body for the resumption of feeding.

A judge later rejected an initial request by Michael Schiavo to block Bush's order but said he would consider it again after both sides file briefs.

Felos said that Terri Schiavo suffered signs of organ failure Tuesday and the reintroduction of fluids after a week without food or water might just make her suffer more.

A Morton Plant Hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday she could not release any information on Schiavo.

The Schindlers had complained Wednesday that they had not been allowed by Michael Schiavo, still her legal guardian, to see her in the hospital. They got that permission late Wednesday, but she had been taken to the hospice, in an ambulance escorted by several police cars, by the time they arrived at the hospital.

Felos said earlier that the woman was quietly dying after the tube was removed, that her heartbeat had become irregular and her kidneys were shutting down, and that it was "simply inhumane and barbaric to interrupt her death process."

"The hysterical opposition to his case says so much more about us as a society," he said. "I think it says so much more about our fear of death than the sanctity of life."

The bill sent to Bush was designed to be as narrow as possible. It is limited to cases in which the patient left no living will, is in a persistent vegetative state and has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed, and where a family member has challenged the removal.

Legal experts widely agreed that the governor and Legislature went too far.

"This particular administration has not yet understood why we have separation of powers," said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan. "They seem to believe that the governor and the Legislature can do whatever they want and the courts should not interfere and that's not right."

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe said: "I've never seen a case in which the state legislature treats someone's life as a political football in quite the way this is being done."

Bush and the Republican-led Legislature have a reputation for being at odds with the courts. They have clashed over abortion and the death penalty.

Bush and lawmakers who supported the legislation said they had a legitimate reason to intervene in the case to save Schiavo's life.

"Let us err on the part of not condemning this woman to a painful death that she can feel," said GOP Sen. Anna Cowin.

During the years she has been in a vegetative state, her parents reported their daughter laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices. But the court-appointed doctor said the noises and facial expressions she made were reflexes.


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