Guardian for comatose woman sought

Feeding tube is restored

court mulls guardian issue

October 23, 2003|By Sean Mussenden and Maya Bell | Sean Mussenden and Maya Bell,THE ORLANDO SENTINEL

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A judge agreed yesterday to appoint a special guardian for Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman whose case has set off a legal firestorm in Florida.

But it was unclear exactly how broad the guardian's powers will be, or how he or she might affect Michael Schiavo's ability to make medical decisions on behalf of his wife.

Schiavo's feeding tube was reinserted yesterday, and she was returned to the Pinellas Park hospice where she has lived for more than three years, her father, Bob Schindler, said last night.

While there was no official comment on Schiavo's condition, Schindler said his daughter looked very tired, her eyelids were red, and her condition resembled that of someone who had the flu.

She had been taken to a hospital to be hydrated Tuesday night on the orders of Gov. Jeb Bush, who overrode a judge's decision to remove her tube.

At the same time, Terri's Law, as some are calling the hastily approved legislation that gave Bush the authority to restore her feeding tube, set off an intense constitutional debate. The legal experts seemed to concur on one point: No matter what the lower courts decide, that decision will set off a round of appeals that could be decided rather quickly and probably by the Florida Supreme Court.

Michael Schiavo has acted as his wife's guardian for years. After a decade of wrangling with her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, he won the right to unhook her feeding tube.

He has said - and several courts have agreed - that his wife would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially. Her doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state, brought on after a potassium imbalance caused her heart to stop in 1990.

Terri's Law mandates that the Circuit Court appoint a separate guardian to make recommendations to the governor and the court about her care. Pinellas Circuit Judge David Demers yesterday gave Terri Schiavo's husband and parents five days to agree on someone or he will appoint the guardian.

Pat Anderson, attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents, wants the special guardian to have broad powers, including determining treatments and who can visit Terri Schiavo.

George Felos, an attorney for Michael Schiavo, did not return phone calls yesterday.

The legal question before appellate judges will be: Did lawmakers have the authority to pass a law allowing the governor to thwart a court order?

Legal experts who unequivocally believe the answer is no predict the law could fall on two or three of the grounds.

They say that the law violates Terri's right to privacy, the doctrine of separation of powers and a requirement that special acts be properly advertised before they are enacted. The last argument is technical, but it could derail the law, which was passed in record time.

Bruce Winick, a constitutional expert at the University of Miami, said: "It's a special law passed for one case, so that theory has legs," he said.

But he and several other observers said the separation of powers argument is the most potent, because it has implications far beyond the Schiavo case.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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