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Feeding Tube Removed from Comatose Woman After Six-Year Legal Battle - 2003-10-16

After intense controversy and a six-year legal battle, a feeding tube keeping a comatose Florida woman alive was removed on Wednesday. A Florida appeals court granted her husband's request that she be allowed to die, despite objections by the parents of the woman.

Terry Schiavo, a 39-year-old woman from Pinellas Park, Florida has been in what doctors describe as a persistent vegetative state, ever since she suffered cardiac arrest in 1990. For six years, her husband Michael Schiavo, has sought to have the feeding tube that has kept her alive removed, allowing her to die.

However Terry Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler say their daughter deserves to live and they have fought in Florida's court system their son-in-law's efforts to remove his wife's feeding tube. They say with intensive therapy their daughter might be able to someday eat on her own or even speak again. They say in their visits with their daughter she has recognized their presence, and has smiled and groaned when spoken to.

Most doctors who have been involved with the case say the noises and gestures are involuntary and if Mrs. Schiavo feels anything it would be discomfort. Kenneth Goodman, the director of the bioethics program at the University of Miami, says Mrs. Schiavo's parents are reacting to what they see, but there is no medical evidence to back up their claims.

"The precipitating event here, [cardiac arrest] caused her to have extensive brain trauma and as a result of that she is not able to communicate or have sensations the way other people do. It is a tragedy, it is a catastrophe but it is the way it is," said Mr. Goodman. "You understand anybody who would care about her, looking at that [her physical activity] and saying well it sure looks like there is something going on there. It is a very cruel trick of biology. There is nothing going on there, according to the neurologists."

On Tuesday a Florida appeals court ruled that Michael Schiavo, who is his wife's legal guardian, could remove her feeding tube. Doctors say Terry Schiavo will probably die from starvation within seven to ten days, but that because of her persistent vegetative state she will be unable to feel any sensations of hunger or pain.

The case has become politically charged. Right-to-life groups conducted demonstrations outside the hospice where Terry Schiavo is being cared for and outside the courthouse where most hearings concerning her case have taken place.

Florida's governor, Jeb Bush, the brother of President George W. Bush, has said he supports Bob and Mary Schindler's efforts to keep their daughter alive and that he has ordered his legal aides to try and find a way to intervene in the case, despite the appeals court ruling allowing Michael Schiavo to remove the feeding tube keeping his wife alive.