Fla. court expected to take coma case

Decision on feeding of brain-damaged woman could come in 3 weeks

October 24, 2003|By Hugo Kugiya | Hugo Kugiya,NEWSDAY

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Refused twice in earlier years by the state's highest court, the case of Terri Schiavo will likely be decided ultimately by the Supreme Court of Florida, perhaps in as soon as three weeks, legal experts predict.

Michael Schiavo, the husband of the incapacitated woman, through his lawyer pledged yesterday to see the case through to its end and to fight Gov. Jeb Bush's executive order.

Meanwhile, the attorney representing Terri Schiavo's parents publicly urged him to walk away from what has become the state's most famous guardianship case.

"His overriding interest is to follow Terri's wishes," said Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos. "Who in God's name would subject themselves to what he's gone through? ... He would be unable to live the rest of his life knowing he let Terri down."

Asked whether his client had considered giving up, Felos said, "I'm not going to say we've never talked about it, but if we have, it's been very brief and very fleeting."

Felos said he plans to file a brief Monday in the court of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which represents Pinellas and Pasco counties. Within a week, Judge W. Douglas Baird is expected to render a decision. If he rules in Michael Schiavo's favor, the state will likely appeal the decision, taking the case to the state Supreme Court.

In that event, the court will likely grant an expedited hearing. Should it rule in favor of Michael Schiavo, his wife's feeding tube could be removed again.

Terri Schiavo, 39, is severely brain-damaged. She has been unable to communicate for the past 13 years and has been kept alive with a gastric feeding tube. Michael Schiavo said his wife would not want to live this way and had the tube removed Oct. 15 by order of a state court.

Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, want to keep her alive and take custody of their daughter so they can seek therapy and treatment for her. After consistently losing in court, the Schindlers got help Tuesday in the form of a hastily passed state law that led to an executive order signed by the governor, ordering the tube replaced.

"Her parents just want to have Terri back," said Patricia Anderson, the Schindlers' attorney. "It would be so easy to settle this if he [Michael Schiavo] would just walk away. This is just crazy."

When the state became involved in the case, its complexion changed, giving it political implications and challenging the terms of the state's constitution, which guarantees Florida citizens the right to refuse medical treatment and which keeps separate the legal powers of the executive and judicial branch. Most legal scholars found the government's intervention improper and believe the courts will find it unconstitutional.

That is Felos' hope.

"We're focused," he said, "on obtaining a Florida state court order declaring [the statute] unconstitutional and resuming what was her interrupted death process. ... I fully expect this law to be declared unconstitutional."

Feeding resumed for Terri Schiavo on Wednesday night at the Pinellas Park hospice where she has lived for the past three years. Felos said she passed urine, indicating her kidneys were functioning.

"She looks as good as she did before they stopped feeding her," said Bob Schindler, who spent yesterday at the hospice. "Her color has returned. She looks good. I'm shocked."

Felos reaffirmed yesterday that Michael Schiavo will receive "no financial benefit from her death."

He said that what remains in her guardianship account (money won from a malpractice lawsuit 10 years ago), less than $60,000 by his accounting, will be spent on court and medical expenses.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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