The extraordinary legal and political scramble to try to prolong Terri Schiavo's life seemed to approach a finale yesterday, with a federal appeals court twice refusing to order her feeding tube reinserted and Florida lawmakers failing in their last-ditch effort to intervene.
With time running short, few options remained for Schiavo's parents. Last night they filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which previously has refused to hear her case. Separately, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sought protective custody of the brain-damaged woman in a state court pleading that raised allegations of neglect and a mistaken diagnosis.
In the emergency filing, Bob and Mary Schindler said their 41-year-old daughter faces an unjust and imminent death based on a decision by her husband to remove a feeding tube without strong proof of her consent. They alleged constitutional violations of due process and religious freedom.
The filing also argues that Congress intended for Schiavo's tube to be reinserted, at least temporarily, when it passed an extraordinary bill last weekend that gave federal courts authority to fully review her case.
"This case has attracted worldwide attention -- including that of the United States Congress, the president, and the political branches of the state of Florida," the Schindlers' attorneys wrote. "Just as in a capital punishment case, Terri's life hangs in the balance, and could well be over within hours of this court's decision."
Schiavo's feeding tube was removed Friday, and doctors have said she probably would die within a week or two at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla.
The filing was seen as a long shot. The Supreme Court has declined other opportunities to get involved in the Schiavo case, and legal experts say there is little reason to believe justices will intervene this time.
The Schindlers' request was going first to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who has staked a moderate position on social issues. He had the option to act on the petition alone or refer it to the entire court, which he did with the last emergency request involving Schiavo.
There was no immediate word on when the Supreme Court might act on the petition. On an emergency request to the court last Friday involving Schiavo, justices voted to deny relief within four hours of the filing.
The filing also argues that a federal court must determine critical questions as to whether Schiavo, who left no living will, would have wanted to be removed from her feeding tube.
Among them are Schiavo's "present ability to communicate for herself on a basic level," that her best friends testified she would want treatment, and that husband, Michael Schiavo, who has a live-in girlfriend, isn't looking after her best interests.
"A woman is dying from dehydration and starvation," the filing states.
Florida state courts have already ruled, based on the evidence, that Schiavo would want to die.
The appeal came after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the parents had "failed to demonstrate a substantial case on the merits of any of their claims" that their daughter's feeding tube should be reinserted immediately.
But the efforts appeared unlikely to change the course of the wrenching drama that has drawn the nation's attention and forced a difficult public debate about end-of-life choices and the power of Congress.
President Bush, who signed emergency legislation over the weekend that Republican leaders had hoped could keep Schiavo alive indefinitely, said yesterday that there was nothing more he or Congress could do.
"This is an extraordinary and sad case," Bush said in Waco, Texas. "I believe that in a case such as this the legislative branch, the executive branch, ought to err on the side of life, which we have. And now we'll watch the courts make [their] decisions."
Twice yesterday, decisions from an Atlanta-based federal appeals court went against Schiavo's parents. Before dawn, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld, 2-1, the ruling of a lower court judge who a day earlier had refused to restore the feeding tube on the grounds that the Schindlers' broader federal claims were unlikely to succeed.
"There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo," the majority decision said. "We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision concerning a question of law."
Later in the day, the full appeals court on a 10-2 vote refused without comment the Schindlers' request for an emergency rehearing.
A lawyer for Michael Schiavo, who has maintained that his wife would want to die, welcomed the court decisions. But supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents, who have battled their son-in-law for custody of the woman, grew increasingly anxious.