Use of feeding tube extended for Florida woman

Stay continues to keep Schiavo alive as judge considers request

February 24, 2005|By Maya Bell and John Kennedy | Maya Bell and John Kennedy,ORLANDO SENTINEL

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A judge barred the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube yesterday for 48 more hours, while in a surprise move the state's social welfare agency asked for an indefinite delay to investigate potential abuse of the severely brain-damaged woman.

Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer's decision to bar Michael Schiavo from removing his wife's feeding tube until at least 5 p.m. tomorrow was not related to a request by the state Department of Children & Families to intervene in the closely watched case.

In fact, Greer refused to hear the DCF's lawyer or consider her motion, saying it was not properly placed on his court calendar. Rather, he said, he needed more time to decide whether Robert and Mary Schindler should be allowed to pursue more legal and medical options to prove their daughter is not in a vegetative state and could recover.

But the DCF's sudden entry in the case emboldened the Schindlers, who have been embroiled in a seven-year legal battle against their son-in-law over their daughter's care and end-of-life wishes.

"We are really elated. Forty-eight hours to us right now seems like six years," Robert Schindler said. "We've been complaining and complaining and complaining that Terri has been abused, but it's fallen on deaf ears."

But George Felos, an attorney for Michael Schiavo, said the DCF's sudden interest in the case "reeked of political arm-twisting" by politicians in Tallahassee who ran out of options after "Terri's Law" was struck down as unconstitutional. Enacted in October 2003, the law empowered the governor to order that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube be reinserted six days after it was removed by court order.

Over the past six years, Felos said the department has investigated "scores" of anonymous calls to its abuse hot line alleging abuse against Terri Schiavo, but none of them has been substantiated.

"Lo and behold, all of a sudden, after six years DCF radically changes its position and decides that there is a need to intervene," Felos said. "Anyone can see what clearly is happening. The governor and the Legislature - the politicians - have tried to do an end around the court system. They did it in October 2003, and that's what they're trying to do now."

For days now, anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who is coordinating protest efforts for the Schindlers, has been urging Bush to declare Schiavo a ward of the state and have the DCF take over her guardianship.

Yesterday Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush, would not say what the governor knew about the DCF's investigation or whether he asked the agency to intervene.

But he said the governor remains committed to "doing whatever he can within the law to help Terri." He also said the DCF has an obligation to "protect children and vulnerable adults and to respond to allegations of abuse or neglect."

Earlier yesterday, Bush told reporters he was exploring options to block the removal of the tube but added that there was only so much he could do. "I will do whatever I can within the laws of our state to protect this woman's life," he said.

Exactly what the DCF is investigating was not clear. Kelly McKibben, general counsel for the agency's District 7, based in Orlando, asked the judge to seal the DCF's motion.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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