Legal Efforts Fading in Schiavo Case

Jim Teeple

Legal efforts to reattach a severely brain-damaged Florida woman's feeding tube appeared to be coming to an end on Thursday, with rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and a Florida judge. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, and a Florida judge barred state officials from intervening to try to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer, who ordered Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube removed last week, ruled against a request by Florida state welfare officials to take protective custody of Terri Schiavo and reattach her feeding tube. The Florida judge also ruled against a second motion that would have allowed Florida's Governor Jeb Bush to intervene in the case on an emergency basis.

The decisions followed a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that rejected a plea from Ms. Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to do the same. The Supreme Court decision which came in a brief one-page order was welcomed by George Felos who is the lawyer for Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo's husband and legal guardian.

"We are very grateful for the Court's ruling and we believe that effectively ends the litigation in this case, " he said.

Michael Schiavo has been fighting in Florida courts for more than a decade to remove his wife's feeding tube, saying she had told him she did not wish to be kept alive artificially. Terri Schiavo has been hospitalized with severe brain damage since 1990 when her heart stopped briefly, due a chemical imbalance, believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder.

Terri Schiavo's parents say they believe their daughter could recover some brain functions with therapy. On Sunday, the U.S. Congress passed emergency legislation allowing the Schindlers to move their case to the Federal Court system, something that has now come to an end.

Schiavo attorney George Felos told reporters Thursday he believes judicial appeals have now been exhausted.

"I mention again I think it should become obvious to one and every observer that that the entire judicial system of the United States, the state courts of Florida, the entire Federal Judiciary, has said this case must end," he said. "This case is over. Mrs. Schiavo's legal rights have been ruled on again and again, the courts have consistently found that she did not want to remain alive artificially. Her wishes should be carried out."

The latest legal wrangling in Florida was prompted by Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who said on Wednesday that a new medical review by state authorities showed Ms. Schiavo's brain damage might not be as severe as initially diagnosed. Governor Bush said Ms. Schiavo's medical condition needed to be stabilized, so her case could be reviewed by state welfare officials who might need to take her into protective custody.

"The neurologist's review indicates that Terri may have been misdiagnosed, and it is more likely that she is in a state of minimal consciousness rather than in a persistent vegetative state," he said. "This new information raises serious concerns and warrants immediate action."

In addition to the legal setbacks suffered by Terri Schiavo's parents Thursday, Florida's Senate on Wednesday also rejected a measure to intervene in the case.

Supporters of Ms. Schiavo's parents are vowing to pursue further legal avenues to intervene in the case although it is not clear at this point what those might be.

President Bush issued a statement Thursday from his ranch in Texas, saying he was saddened by the Supreme Court Ruling. The statement says "when there is a complex case such as this, where serious questions have been raised, the president believes we ought to err on the side of life."

Law enforcement authorities have reinforced security at the hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida where Terri Schiavo is bedridden. Over the past few days police have arrested a number of protesters who support Ms. Schiavo's parents.

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was disconnected last Friday, but medical experts say the brain damaged woman could live for as long as another week, if her feeding tube is not reattached.

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