New stalemate in Schiavo right-to-die case

Appeals court allows removal of feeding tube

ruling quickly put on hold

February 23, 2005|By John-Thor Dahlburg | John-Thor Dahlburg,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The long legal battle over a severely brain-damaged woman was extended at least one more day yesterday, when a Florida appeals court cleared the way for the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, only to have another judge order that it be kept in place.

The emergency stay, issued by Pinellas Circuit Judge George W. Greer, expires today. David C. Gibbs, an attorney for Schiavo's parents, said he would argue that enough issues remain unresolved in the case that Greer should extend his ban on disconnecting the tube indefinitely.

Bob and Mary Schindler have been fighting for years to keep their daughter alive. They were at her bedside in a hospice yesterday, fearing that her food and water supply might be cut off, when they learned of Greer's order.

"They believe God answered their prayers. Their daughter is alive for another day," Gibbs said.

Schiavo's brain was damaged in 1990 when a chemical imbalance that doctors said was caused by an eating disorder led to a heart attack and temporary oxygen deprivation. She since has been able to breathe on her own, but cannot eat or drink unassisted. Doctors have testified that she is in a "persistent vegetative state," with little or no prognosis for improvement.

Schiavo, now 41, did not have a will; her husband, Michael Schiavo, has maintained that his wife would not have wanted to be kept alive under such conditions.

The surgically implanted tube that provides Terri Schiavo with nourishment was first removed in 2001, after a court sided with her husband; it was reinserted under another court's order two days later.

In 2003 the tube was disconnected for six days, but the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law empowering Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, to order it reattached.

"Terri's Law" ultimately was declared unconstitutional by Florida's Supreme Court, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year declined to review.

The Schindlers' legal options were dwindling.

Yesterday afternoon, Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland issued a one-page order effectively ending a stay that since October had kept the tube in place. Michael Schiavo's attorney, George J. Felos, had made it clear that his client intends to proceed immediately with its removal.

But within an hour of the appellate court's action, Greer handed out copies of his emergency order for the one-day stay.

The Schindlers were "completely thrilled," Gibbs said. "The family can go to bed tonight, not concerned whether their daughter is in any jeopardy." As of mid-afternoon, Terri Schiavo was "thriving and well-fed," the lawyer said.

Gibbs said he planned to argue during a hearing before Greer today that the stay should be extended; the family wants time to press their case that Schiavo's due-process rights have been violated, that new medical developments indicate she may suffer from a less serious condition - known as "minimally conscious state" - and that her husband is unfit to serve as her legal guardian.

Felos dismissed those points yesterday as "recycled motions" already resolved by the courts - in Michael Schiavo's favor.

"We're hopeful that the courts will finally come to the point of saying: `No more delay,'" Felos said. As soon as Michael Schiavo is legally authorized, Felos said, he plans to "discontinue artificial life support" to his wife.

Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who has been asked by the Schindlers to organize protests on their daughter's behalf, expressed hope that Florida's politicians might intervene again to save Terri Schiavo's life.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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