Schiavo Bill Fails in Fla. Senate

Wednesday, March 23, 2005




The Florida Senate rejected a bill Wednesday to keep Terri Schiavo alive as the brain-damaged woman's parents were running out of options to have her feeding tube reinserted.

The bill would have prohibited patients like Schiavo from being denied food and water if they didn't express their wishes in writing. The 21-18 vote came five days after her feeding tube was removed under court order. Doctors have said she could survive one to two weeks without the tube, which was pulled Friday.

Several senators said prior to the vote that they shouldn't be getting involved.

"This bill doesn't belong here. This decision belongs between the courts and the family." said Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican.

The Legislature tried once before to protect Schiavo, in 2003 voting to reinsert Terri Schiavo's feeding tube after six days. But "Terri's Law" (search) was later struck down as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, which said it violated Schiavo's right to privacy and delegated legislative power to the governor.

The Senate minority leader, Sen. Les Miller, said the new bill faced a similar fate.

"By the time the ink is dry on the governor's signature, it will be declared unconstitutional, just like it was before," said Miller, a Democrat, before the vote. "So I don't see anything or any language that can persuade my vote."

Gov. Jeb Bush (search) on Wednesday renewed his call for the Legislature to step in and "spare Terri's life."

Bush and the head of the state's social services agency also filed a petition with a Pinellas County trial court seeking to take custody of Schiavo. It cites new allegations of abuse and challenges Schiavo's diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state.

The state House had already passed a bill, but it has broader language than the Senate version. The Senate bill would have applied only to cases where families disagree on a patient's wishes.

Schiavo, 41, has been at the center of a court battle between her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), and her husband, Michael Schiavo (search), over whether she would want to be kept alive in a severely brain damaged state. She has gone without food and water since Friday, when her feeding tube was removed under court order. Doctors have said she could live through next week.

Michael Schiavo says she wouldn't want to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state. The Schindlers say those weren't her wishes and contest the diagnosis, saying their daughter is conscious and could recover.

Her parents' options continued to narrow as a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta refused early Wednesday to order the reinsertion of the tube. The Schindlers asked the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (search) to review the panel's decision and said they would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Her brother, Bobby Schindler, arrived in the state capital early Wednesday to plead with lawmakers.

"I'm not going to give up hope," he said. "My family never has. We'll keep doing what we have to do to somehow get my sister out of this mess."

Schindler covered his eyes with his hands and bent his head as he sat in the public gallery above the Senate floor, following the contentious debate over the bill.

"To be kept alive artificially above and beyond your wishes and the wishes you expressed to your family -- that is cruel and unusual punishment," said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville.

Sen. Burt Saunders took exception to accusations that lawmakers opposing the bill were effectively killing Terri Schiavo.

"I don't believe I'm voting to end a life," said Saunders, R-Cape Coral. "I believe I'm voting to recognize the sanctity of life ... to let people die peacefully."