Options near end in Schiavo conflicts

Friday, March 25, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:53 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — With Terri Schiavo visibly drawing closer to death, her parents were rebuffed by both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts Thursday in their battle to reinsert their brain-damaged daughter’s feeding tube.

Bob and Mary Schindler held onto the slim hope that Gov. Jeb Bush would somehow find a way to intervene or a federal judge, who had turned them down before, would see things their way. But Bush warned that he was running out of options.

As of Thursday afternoon, Schiavo, 41, had been without food or water for six full days and was showing signs of dehydration — flaky skin, dry tongue and lips, sunken eyes, according to attorneys and friends of the Schindlers. Doctors have said she would probably die within a week or two of the tube being pulled.

“It’s very frustrating. Every minute that goes by is a minute that Terri is being starved and dehydrated to death,” said her brother, Bobby Schindler, who said seeing her was like looking at “pictures of prisoners in concentration camps.”

Brian Schiavo, the brother of Schiavo’s husband, though, strongly disagreed with that assessment, telling CNN on Thursday night that Schiavo “does look a little withdrawn” but insisting that she was not in pain. He added that starvation is simply “part of the death process.”

A lawyer for the husband, Michael Schiavo, said he hoped the woman’s parents and the governor would finally give up their fight.

“We believe it’s time for that to stop as we approach this Easter weekend and that Mrs. Schiavo be able to die in peace,” attorney George Felos said.

The Schindlers appeared before a federal judge in Tampa later Thursday to make another emergency request that the feeding tube be reattached while they pursue claims that Schiavo’s religious and due-process rights were violated. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore previously rejected a similar request, nd said Thursday he would work overnight to issue a new ruling.

At the hearing, Whittemore asked Schindler lawyer David Gibbs III to focus on the legal issues because he was aware of Terri Schiavo’s declining health. Gibbs argued that, as she lay dying, her rights to life and privacy were being violated.

Felos argued that Schiavo’s constitutional rights haven’t been violated.

“The real grievance is not they (the Schindlers) did not have a day in court, that they did not have due process,” Felos said. “The real grievance is they disagree with the result.”

Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. She left no living will, but her husband argued that she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, and contend she could get better.

The dispute has led to what may be the longest, most heavily litigated right-to-die case in U.S. history.

The U.S. Supreme Court, without explanation, refused Thursday to order the feeding tube reinserted. The case worked its way through the federal courts and reached the Supreme Court after Congress passed an extraordinary law over the weekend to let the Schindlers take their case to federal court.

Later Thursday, Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer denied Bush’s request to let the state take Schiavo into protective custody and, presumably, restore her feeding tube. Bush appealed that decision to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. In documents filed in Greer’s court, Bush cited new allegations that Schiavo was neglected and abused, and challenged her diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state.

The Florida Supreme Court later declined to take up a separate appeal on another Greer order that blocked the state’s social services agency from taking temporary custody of Schiavo while challenges are argued. Late Thursday afternoon, DCF filed another petition before Greer seeking to provide emergency protective services for Terri Schiavo. Greer had not scheduled a hearing by Thursday night but, according to Bush’s office, he indicated one could occur Monday.

In his decision, Greer said an affidavit from a neurologist who believes that Schiavo is “minimally conscious” was not enough to set aside his decision to allow the withdrawal of food and water.

“By clear and convincing evidence, it was determined she did not want to live under such burdensome conditions and that she would refuse such medical treatment-assistance,” Greer wrote.

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