Federal judge hears Schiavo case

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

TAMPA, Fla. -- Attorney David Gibbs III stood before the judge and uttered six words that summed up the intensity of the legal cliffhanger surrounding Terri Schiavo: "Terri may die as I speak."

The rival attorney, George Felos, had a different argument as he sought to convince the judge that reinserting Schiavo's feeding tube would be a violation of her rights.

"Yes, life is sacred. So is liberty, particularly in this country," Felos said, arguing the case for husband Michael Schiavo.

The arguments before U.S. District Judge James Whittemore were part of an intense courtroom showdown Monday over the fate of the brain-damaged woman, whose feeding tube was removed Friday. Doctors have said Schiavo, 41, could survive one to two weeks without the tube.

Whittemore did not immediately rule after the two-hour hearing, and he seemed cool to the argument of the parents, who believe Schiavo should live.

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that you have a substantial likelihood" of the parents' lawsuit succeeding, said Whittemore, nominated by former President Clinton in 1999.

The arguments followed an extraordinary political fight over the weekend that consumed both chambers of Congress and prompted the president to rush back to the White House.

Congress passed a law that allowed Schiavo's parents to argue their case before a federal court, bringing the legal battle to Whittemore's Tampa courtroom.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau was among those in the House who voted for the bill in the early morning hours Monday.

"This unusual legislation is, unfortunately, necessary to define a gray area in law that has been exposed by the case of Terri Schiavo," Emerson said. "I hope it will set a precedent for any future cases like hers."

'Litigated and relitigated'

Felos told Whittemore that the case has been aired thoroughly in state courts and that forcing the 41-year-old severely brain damaged woman to endure another reinsertion of the tube would violate her civil rights.

"Every possible issue has been raised and reraised, litigated and relitigated," Felos said. "It's the elongation of these proceedings that have violated Mrs. Schiavo's due process rights."

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed at 1:45 p.m. Friday, the third such time it has been disconnected. On both previous occasions the tube was re-inserted, once on order of a judge, once on order of the governor.

Michael Schiavo contends he is carrying out his wife's wishes not to be kept alive artificially. He said he was outraged that lawmakers and the president were intervening in the bitter right-to-die battle.

"There is no happy ending," Michael Schiavo said on CNN's "Larry King Live" late Monday. "When Terri's wishes are carried out, it will be her wish. She will be at peace. She will be with the Lord."

The family's lawsuit alleges a series of rights violations, including that Terri Schiavo's religious beliefs were being infringed upon, that the removal of the feeding tube violated her rights and that she was not provided an independent attorney to represent her interests.

Outside the hospice where his daughter entered her fourth day without food or water, Terri Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler, told reporters, "I'm numb, I'm just totally numb. This whole thing, it's hard to believe it."

A shout of joy was heard from the crowd outside the hospice when news of the House bill's passage came. About two dozen activists outside the hospice were subdued but hopeful after learning that Whittemore did not issue an immediate ruling.

Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly because of a possible potassium imbalance brought on by an eating disorder. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding tube to keep her alive.

Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Her husband says she would not want to be kept alive in that condition, but her parents insist she could recover with treatment.

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