Legal options waning in Schiavo case

U.S. judge denies parents' emergency request to resume feeding brain-damaged woman

Schindlers quickly appeal

41-year-old showing signs of dehydration

March 25, 2005|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,Sun National Staff

As Terri Schiavo's health waned, a federal judge refused today to order the reinsertion of her feeding tube, thwarting another legal move from the brain-damaged woman's parents. They quickly appealed the ruling and said "something has to be done quick."

For a second time, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore ruled against the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who had asked him to grant their emergency request to resume their daughter's nourishment while he considers a lawsuit they filed.

The Schindlers quickly appealed again to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to review Whittemore's ruling. The Atlanta court refused before to overturn a previous Whittemore ruling.

Bob Schindler visited his daughter for about 15 minutes this morning. "Terri is weakening; she's down to her last hours," he said. "So something has to be done, and it has to be done quick."

He said the appeal to the Atlanta court is "very very viable and we encourage the appellate court to take a hard look at this thing and do the right thing."

In his 11-page decision, Whittemore wrote that the Schindlers couldn't establish "a substantial likelihood of success on the merits" of their case. He also noted "the difficulties and heartbreak the parties have endured throughout this lengthy process" and praised the lawyers' civility, saying it was "a credit to their professionalism ... and Terri."

With their daughter near death, the Schindlers' legal options to prolong her life dwindled yesterday as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to order that her feeding tube be reinserted and a Florida judge blocked an effort by state officials to take the severely brain-damaged woman into protective custody.

Refusing to give up, Schiavo's parents looked to the slim chance that Gov. Jeb Bush would ignore court rulings and use his executive powers to have her feeding tube replaced. Bush has ordered his legal team to scour state laws for a way to reconnect Schiavo's feeding tube.

But Bush told a Florida news service yesterday that his legal powers "are not as expansive as people would like them to be."

A spokeswoman for the governor, Alia Faraj, said today he was "saddened by the decision. ... Judge Whittemore's willingness to take a look at Terri's case gave us a ray of hope."

The developments appeared to signal that an end was near in the seven-year legal battle between Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and her husband, Michael Schiavo, who has maintained that his wife would want to die without further medical intervention.

An attorney for Michael Schiavo said the Schindlers should try, at the start of Easter weekend, to accept their daughter's imminent death.

"It should become obvious to everyone and every observer that the entire judicial system of the United States, the state courts in the state of Florida, the entire federal judiciary, has said this case must end, this case is over," attorney George Felos said in Clearwater, Fla.

"Mrs. Schiavo's legal rights have been ruled on again and again and again. The courts have consistently found that she did not want to remain alive artificially," Felos said. "Her wishes should be carried out. And in that spirit, I hope that the parents do not keep pursuing fruitless legal options to the end. I think their time would be better served in reflection."

As of this morning, Terri Schiavo, 41, had been without food or water for almost seven days and was showing signs of dehydration -- flaky skin, dry tongue and lips, and sunken eyes, according to attorneys and friends of the Schindlers. Doctors have said she would probably die within a week or two of the tube being pulled.

She has now been off the tube longer than she was in 2003, when the tube was removed for six days and five hours. It was reinserted when the Legislature passed a law later thrown out by the courts.

Time running short

With time running short, supporters blasted the court rulings that continued to go against her parents' position and pushed hard for a last-minute intervention by the governor.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, compared the effort to prolong Schiavo's life to civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s, saying that no one would doubt a governor's decision to step in if the situation involved black residents denied the right to vote or a seat at a lunch counter.

"A citizen of your state is being brutally murdered. You need to intervene on her behalf, Governor Bush," Mahoney said in a direct appeal.

Other Christian conservatives held protest signs yesterday outside the governor's offices in Tallahassee, and his phone lines were flooded with calls from across the country about the case.

The governor made no public appearances yesterday, and it was unclear whether he had consulted with his brother, President Bush, who was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

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