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Judge in Florida Refuses to Re-Insert Feeding Tube in Brain Damaged Woman

  • Jim Teeple

A federal judge in Tampa, Florida, has ruled against a motion to re-insert a feeding tube in Terri Schiavo, a brain damaged woman, whose case has grabbed national attention.

Federal Judge James Whittemore ruled against Terri Schiavo's parents who sought reinsertion of the feeding tube, saying they had not established what he described as a "substantial likelihood of success based on their arguments."

Lawyers for the family said her death by starvation and dehydration would constitute a "mortal sin" under her Roman Catholic beliefs, and would, therefore, violate her religious liberties under the U.S. Constitution.

Ms. Schiavo has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state since a 1990 heart attack. She has been without food or water since her feeding tube was removed last Friday.

Ms. Schiavo's parents believe she could recover with therapy.

Judge Whittemore said Terri Schiavo's "life and liberty interests" had been protected by Florida courts, which have ruled consistently in favor of her husband, Michael, who has been seeking to remove his wife's feeding tube, arguing that it was her wish not to be kept alive artificially.

Speaking late Monday, David Gibbs, a lawyer for Ms. Schiavo's parents, said if his motion were denied, he would take the case to a higher court.

"We have a number of options still pending, based on this act, based on other matters that are pending," said Mr. Gibbs.

The U.S. Congress in a rare special session on Sunday, passed emergency legislation allowing Terri Schiavo's parents to take their request into the federal court system to try to have their daughter's feeding tube reconnected. President Bush cut short a vacation in Texas to return to Washington to sign the bill into law early Monday.

George Felos, a lawyer for Michael Schiavo, said in the hearing on Monday, it became clear that Judge Whittemore was skeptical of the constitutionality of Congress's action.

"It was obvious from the questioning of the judge to the attorney for the parents that there is no federal right, or enunciated right, for the parents to have reviewed in this case," he said.

The Terri Schiavo case has dominated the agenda in the United States over the past week. A poll of over 900 adults by the Gallup organization found that six out of 10 people polled felt that Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube should be removed.

Now, the Terri Schiavo case moves to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel will hear arguments on Tuesday, and is expected to issue a ruling quickly.

Ms. Schiavo has been without food or water since Friday, although medical experts say it could take a week or longer for her to die, if her feeding tube is not reconnected.

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