Spouse goes to court on `Terri's law'

Coma patient's husband challenges Fla. legislation

October 30, 2003|By John-Thor Dahlburg | John-Thor Dahlburg,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MIAMI - Opposed by Florida's governor, legislators and even the president, the husband of a severely brain-damaged woman went to court yesterday to challenge the constitutionality of a state law passed specifically to keep his wife alive.

Michael Schiavo contends his wife, Terri, who has been in a vegetative state for the past 13 years, would not have wanted her life prolonged by being hooked to a feeding tube.

A state court agreed with him and allowed the removal of the life-sustaining device, but Florida lawmakers rushed through a special law last week empowering Gov. Jeb Bush to order the tube reinstated.

Schiavo's lawyer and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit yesterday against the Oct. 21 law in state court, claiming the measure - which Florida legal experts say has no known precedent - violates Terri Schiavo's right of privacy and is an unconstitutional intrusion on the authority of judges.

"This dangerous abuse of power by the governor and Florida lawmakers should concern everyone who may face difficult and agonizing decisions involving the medical condition of a family member," Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida, said in a statement.

"Based on the precedent of this case, meddling politicians could set aside court orders they don't agree with and veto any decision made by a patient or family members."

Specialists in constitutional law say the Florida law is a breach of the doctrine of separation of powers because it authorizes the governor to contravene a court ruling. However, saving 39-year-old Terri Schiavo's life has become a popular cause among religious conservatives, a constituency the Republican Party values highly and is counting on in the 2004 elections.

At a White House news conference Tuesday, President Bush praised Jeb Bush for ordering the woman's feeding tube restored: "I believe my brother made the right decision."

Also Tuesday, a Washington-based group whose goal is protecting Americans with disabilities said letting Terri Schiavo die would be treating her like a second-class citizen. "Treating people differently based on health or disability status violates the rights of people with disabilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as the rights that all people should be assured by the U.S. Constitution," Jim Ward, president of ADAWatch, said in a statement.

The husband is locked in a bitter dispute with his in-laws over whether Terri Schiavo, who suffered brain damage in 1990, should be kept alive.

To challenge what Florida lawmakers call "Terri's Law" and to allow her to die, the ACLU and Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George J. Felos of Dunedin, filed a 43-page brief yesterday with Pinellas Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird in Clearwater. Attorneys for the state have five days to respond.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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