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Schiavo's parents running out of options

Thursday, March 24, 2005

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. -- Terri Schiavo's parents saw their options vanish one by one Wednesday as a federal appeals court refused to order her feeding tube reinserted and the Florida Legislature decided not to intervene in the epic struggle. Vowing not to give up, Gov. Jeb Bush sought court permission to take custody of Schiavo.

The desperate flurry of activity came as President Bush suggested that Congress and the White House had done all they could to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Schiavo had gone five full days without food or water; doctors have said she could survive one to two weeks.

Supporters of Schiavo's parents grew increasingly dismayed, and 10 protesters were arrested outside her hospice for trying to bring her water.

"When I close my eyes at night, all I can see is Terri's face in front of me, dying, starving to death," Mary Schindler said outside her daughter's Pinellas Park hospice. "Please, someone out there, stop this cruelty. Stop the insanity. Please let my daughter live."

The Schindlers have taken their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to get involved previously. Their attorneys made an appeal on Wednesday, asking justices to order resumption of nourishment for their severely brain-damaged daughter.

In the emergency filing, the Schindlers say their 41-year-old daughter faces an unjust and imminent death based on a decision by her husband to remove a feeding tube without strong proof of her consent. They alleged constitutional violations of due process and religious freedom.

The filing also argues Congress intended for Schiavo's tube to be reinserted, at least temporarily, when it passed an extraordinary bill last weekend that gave federal courts authority to fully review her case.

Visible effects

Schiavo's tube was pulled Friday afternoon with a Florida judge's approval. By late Tuesday, her eyes were sunken and her skin, lips and tongue were parched, said Barbara Weller, an attorney for the Schindlers. The hospice has refused to provide details about her condition.

Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Her parents argue that she could get better and that she would never have wanted to be cut off from food and water. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, has argued that his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially, and a state judge has repeatedly ruled in his favor.

The battle played out on several fronts Wednesday.

A three-judge panel from the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the family early Wednesday, and hours later the full court refused to reconsider; the vote breakdown was not provided.

Jeb Bush and the state's social services agency filed a petition in state court to take custody of Schiavo and, presumably, reconnect her feeding tube. It cites new allegations of neglect and challenges Schiavo's diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state. The request is based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state who observed Schiavo at her bedside but did not conduct an examination of her.

The neurologist, William Cheshire of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organizations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube's removal.

Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota, a neurologist who was among those who made a previous diagnosis of Schiavo, said "there isn't a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won't find her in a vegetative state."

The long-shot custody request by Bush was made before Judge George Greer, the same judge who has presided over the case for several years and issued the ruling last month that allowed the feeding tube to be removed. Greer planned to decide by noon Thursday on whether the case would go forward.

The Florida Legislature also jumped back into the fray, but senators rejected a bill that would have prohibited patients like Schiavo from being denied food and water if they did not express their wishes in writing. The measure was rejected 21-18.

The Legislature stepped in before, in 2003, and Schiavo's feeding tube was reinserted. But "Terri's Law" was later struck down by the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional attempt to interfere in the courts.

The Senate vote Wednesday came after a bitter debate, with Terri Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, watching from the gallery above the floor. He covered his eyes with his hands and lowered his head during the debate.

"I'm here pleading for mercy. Have mercy on Theresa Marie Schiavo," said bill sponsor Sen. Dan Webster, a Republican.

But Senate Democratic Leader Les Miller warned: "By the time the ink is dry on the governor's signature, it will be declared unconstitutional, just like it was before."

A lawyer for Michael Schiavo said he was pleased by what happened in the appeals court. But he was bothered that the governor was attempting to intervene again.

"They have no more power than you or I or a person walking down the street to say we have the right to take Terri Schiavo," attorney George Felos said.

Meanwhile, President Bush suggested that he and Congress had done their best to help the parents prolong Schiavo's life, and the White House said it had no further legal options.

"I believe that in a case such as this, the legislative branch, the executive branch, ought to err on the side of life, which we have," the president said. "Now we'll watch the courts make their decisions."

Federal courts were given jurisdiction to review Schiavo's case after Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation over the weekend aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life. But federal courts at two levels rebuffed the family.

"There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo," Judges Ed Carnes and Frank M. Hull said in the 2-1 decision by the 11th circuit panel. "We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision."

Dissenting Judge Charles R. Wilson said Schiavo's "imminent" death would end the case before it could be fully considered. "I fail to see any harm in reinserting the feeding tube," he wrote.

Republican leaders in Congress refused to give up entirely. In legal papers prepared for filing at the Supreme Court, they argued that the 11th circuit had "failed to adhere to the plain meaning" of the emergency legislation.

The legislation required that a new, independent evaluation of her case be made, according to papers filed for House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Majority Leader Tom DeLay and others. They said it also required the courts to "ensure that desperately needed nutritional support" is provided to Schiavo while the review is conducted.

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