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Federal Judge Postpones Ruling on Replacing Feeding Tube in Brain Damaged Woman


A U.S. federal judge on Monday in the city of Tampa, Florida has put off ruling on a motion to re-insert a feeding tube in Terri Schiavo, a brain damaged woman in the state. The decision follows action by the U.S. Congress to pass emergency legislation allowing federal courts to reopen the case.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore heard arguments for and against a motion to re-insert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, but made no decision on Monday in the case of the brain-damaged woman. Judge Whittemore gave no indication when he will rule on the request.

The courtroom drama came less than 24 hours after the U.S. Congress passed emergency legislation allowing Terri Schiavo's parents to petition federal courts to keep her alive. Ms. Schiavo's parents are seeking to overturn a state court decision that allowed Ms. Schiavo's husband to disconnect her feeding tube on Friday. The bill which passed in emergency session by Congress was signed early Monday by President Bush.

Following Monday's hearing, George Felos, a lawyer for Michael Schiavo, who is his wife's legal guardian, called the congressional action unconstitutional. He said he told the court on Monday that to re-insert the feeding tube would violate Terri Schiavo's civil rights.

"This law is blatantly unconstitutional because Congress cannot pass a law that substantially obstructs a fundamental right," he said. "Each American under the United States Constitution has the fundamental right to say no I do want that medical treatment. I do not want that respirator, I do not want that feeding tube. That is a very personal choice. It is part of a person's liberty and Congress does not have the right to infringe on our civil rights."

David Gibbs a lawyer for Ms. Schiavo's parents said he told the court on Monday that forcing Terri Schiavo to die by dehydration and starvation would constitute a "mortal sin" under her Roman Catholic beliefs, and would be a violation of her religious liberty. Mr. Gibbs said he tried to stress the urgency of the situation to Judge Whittemore.

"I was not in there to talk about constitutional issues, matters that we can talk about in an esoteric sense. We are talking about a lady who is dying and this is an emergency situation where we are coming forward and saying your honor we have a law where her rights are to be adjudicated, passed by the Congress," he said. "The President urgently rearranged his schedule and now we are in federal court exactly where they (Congress) wants us. And, we tried to stress the urgency of moving quickly and with dispatch. I am sure the Court is well aware that Terri does not have many days without food or water before she will die."

A majority of physicians who have examined Terri Schiavo say that she is in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state, with no hope of regaining consciousness. Ms. Schiavo's parents and siblings say their daughter's changing facial expressions are not involuntary, as most medical experts say, but rather evidence of cognition, and even emotion.

Terri Schiavo has had no food or water since Friday, but experts say it could take a week or longer for her to die if she is not reconnected to her feeding tube.