PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Inside what is described as a bare hospice room with an armed police officer seated next to her bed, Terri Schiavo continued the slow process of dying yesterday. Outside, beyond earshot and out of view, protesters were hoping for a last-ditch court victory ordering the reinsertion of Schiavo's feeding tube.
With the start of Easter weekend, the scene outside the central Florida hospice was charged with religious overtones. A priest held Good Friday services, and the crowd sang hymns. A nearly life-size sculpture of Jesus on a crucifix arrived on a flatbed trailer, while protesters gripping Bibles likened the 41-year-old severely brain-damaged woman to Christ, calling both of them martyrs.
But beyond the hospice, the legal rulings continued to come down squarely against Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who are fighting to take legal custody from Schiavo's husband and try to rehabilitate her. In the narrow confines of the hospice and on a national stage, the Schindlers are warring with Michael Schiavo, who says his wife would not want to live in what doctors have called a persistent vegetative state.
A federal judge yesterday morning rejected for a second time an emergency request to resume Schiavo's nourishment. And hours later, the Schindlers took the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, arguing their daughter's due process and religious rights were being violated. That court also had rejected the case this week, and last night a three-judge panel of the court rejected it again.
Late in the afternoon, the couple returned to the state courts with a new petition, again requesting that the feeding tube be reinserted. In new papers, the Schindlers claimed that Schiavo tried to say "I want to live" when the tube was removed. Doctors who have examined her for the court said her previous utterances weren't speech but were involuntary moans.
George Felos, the attorney for her husband, said the belief that Terri Schiavo can speak was "crossing the line" into an abuse of the legal system. Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer, who had ordered the tube removed, is expected to rule by noon today.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's attorneys are searching for new legal avenues to transfer care of Schiavo to the state, but the governor has said he won't ignore the courts to intervene on his own. Many activists have pressured him to get involved in a case that has drawn action not only by Bush but also by Congress and President Bush.
"Terri is weakening," Bob Schindler, Schiavo's father, said after a brief visit with his daughter, as reporters from around the country surrounded him in the Florida heat. "She's down to her last hours, so something has to be done and has to be done quick."
Now, barring dramatic legal developments, the rest of the Schiavo case is left to play out on a narrow strip of grass outside a suburban hospice. Protesters remained encamped there in a gathering that is part religious rally, part political protest, part public relations operation.
As Schiavo entered her second week without food or water, Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother, was shepherded through the crowd by anti-abortion activists who have latched onto Schiavo's case in their fight against the right-to-die movement. As he mingled with activists and they told Schindler how far they had traveled - one from Virginia, one from Texas, one from Chicago - the brother replied, "Gosh, anybody here from Florida?"
But the case long ago stopped being a local affair, or, for that matter, a family one.
Randall Terry, founder of the national anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, strolled the marshy grounds in faux ostrich-skin shoes, handing press releases to reporters. Insisting the legal fight wasn't over, he said: "People close to the governor are saying, `Yes, you can act.'"
While supporters of the Schindlers appeared before the cameras, Michael Schiavo remained largely out of sight yesterday. Friends of the Schindlers say he has been camped at the hospice, entering the facility through a back door and staying in Schiavo's room for several hours at a time - another source of anger for the Schindlers, because both sides of this divided family are never in the room at the same time.
Michael Schiavo has said he is distraught by the critics who have vilified him for doing what he has said was his wife's wish. Schiavo, who was married for five years before suffering brain damage after a 1990 collapse, had not administered a living will.
For the past 15 years, Schiavo has been in what court-appointed doctors determined is an irrevocable brain-damaged state in which she is incapable of thought or emotion. But Schiavo's parents say they have seen evidence of her reacting to them.