Court refuses to review decision in case of brain-damaged Fla. wife

Law that let Gov. Bush order feeding her remains unconstitutional and void

The Nation

October 22, 2004|By Maya Bell | Maya Bell,ORLANDO SENTINEL

The Florida Supreme Court rejected yesterday Gov. Jeb Bush's request to reconsider its decision striking down a state law that had allowed him to keep a severely brain-damaged woman alive.

Issued without comment, the unanimous one-page order paves the way for the removal of the feeding tube that sustains Terri Schiavo, ending a six-year legal battle between her husband and her parents over her fate.

When - or if - that will happen, however, remains up in the air.

The timing depends on both the governor's next move, which was uncertain yesterday, and on a lower court's decision on a new issue raised by Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

Appealing to a judge who ruled four years ago that there was convincing evidence their daughter did not want to be kept alive artificially, the Schindlers asked the judge last month to reconsider that decision based on her religious convictions and a recent papal pronouncement. His ruling is expected today.

Meanwhile, the governor, expressing his disappointment with yesterday's decision during a visit to Orlando, gave every indication he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, as his attorney has often suggested.

"I personally don't want to be a party to removing a feeding tube that causes us to take an innocent life," Bush said. "On death row, it takes 20 years for the appeals process to end, and the state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars before it allows a convicted felon to be executed. I would hope that we would take as much care when it comes to an innocent life."

Should the governor appeal, his action would not necessarily block the withdrawal of Schiavo's feeding tube - unless he requests and wins a stay in another lower court proceeding. That's because the U.S. Supreme Court would not be asked to decide whether Schiavo should live, but whether the law that allowed Bush to intervene in her husband's legal battle to end his wife's life was constitutional.

The state's high court overturned the law last month, saying it violated the separation of powers between the state's branches of government by giving the governor the discretion to set aside a court ruling.

The Florida Legislature passed the measure, widely known as Terri's Law, last October, six days after Schiavo's husband, Michael, won a court order authorizing the withdrawal of his wife's feeding tube.

Michael Schiavo's attorney said his client was pleased with yesterday's ruling and, although he could have his wife's feeding tube withdrawn as early as today, Michael Schiavo would wait until the religious issue raised by his in-laws is settled.

Attorney George Felos added, however, that his client was eager to bring his wife's long saga to a close. Now 40, Terri Schiavo fell into what doctors say is a persistent vegetative state after collapsing from cardiac arrest 14 years ago.

Rich McKay of the Sentinel staff contributed to this article. The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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