Thursday , March 24, 2005
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. —After another day of courtroom defeats, Terri Schiavo's parents on Thursday eagerly awaited the ruling of a federal judge, possibly their last chance to save the life of their brain-damaged daughter.
On Thursday evening, Bob and Mary Schindler appeared before a federal judge in Tampa to make another emergency request that the feeding tube be reattached while they pursue their claims that Schiavo's religious and due-process rights were violated.
While waiting for that decision, the Schindlers learned that the Florida Supreme court refused to overturn a circuit court judge's decision to deny the state's request to take custody of their daughter.
Gov. Jeb Bush (search) wants the state Department of Children & Families to take custody of Schiavo, presumably to reinsert her feeding tube, and to investigate allegations that she has been abused and prove that she's not in a persistent vegetative state.
Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer earlier in the day denied Bush's request.
Randall Terry, who is acting as a spokesman for Schiavo's parents, said Bob and Mary Schindler (search) were not giving up, and again slammed Gov. Bush for not strong-arming the court.
"The governor blinked. The governor blinked," Terry said. "We can only hope the governor is huddling with his attorneys and he is determined with his constitutional authority to enforce the statutes."
U.S. District Judge James Whittemore (search), who had previously rejected a similar request from Schiavo's parents, was presiding over the federal case in Tampa. After the hearing, he said many of the plaintiff's motions were redundant. He said he would stay in his chambers until he reached a decision on whether to reinsert the feeding tube.
At the hearing's outset, Whittemore asked Shindler 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.
The long-shot moves by the Schindlers and the state of Florida came as the U.S. Supreme Court (search) once again refused to order Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted.
"The governor is disappointed [at the Supreme Court decision] and will continue to do whatever he can within the law to save Terri's life," Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said.
Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin said President Bush had been informed of the Supreme Court's ruling.
Bush "felt that the legislation passed by Congress was the best course of action ... he believes that in a case such as this, the legislative branch and the executive branch should err on the side of life, which we did."
Greer had ordered the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube last Friday. Doctors predicted she would live for two weeks at most.
High Court Again Rejects Case
After being dealt a pair of blows in their effort to keep Schiavo alive, the Schindlers had argued in a 40-page emergency filing with the Supreme Court that their 41-year-old daughter faces an unjust and imminent death based on a decision by her husband to remove a feeding tube without strong proof of her consent. They alleged constitutional violations of due process and religious freedom.
But the justices declined to intervene in the case. No explanation was given for their decision.
For all the court documents in the Schiavo case, click here (provided by FindLaw).
The Schindlers' filing also argued Congress intended for Schiavo's tube to be reinserted, at least temporarily, when they passed an unprecedented bill last weekend that gave federal courts authority to fully review her case.
In its conclusion, the request suggested that the case has implications for the protection of the disadvantaged.
"It has taken our nation many years to make good on its commitment to equal justice for persons with profound, cognitive disabilities," the request read. "Unless the state of Florida retains the power to protect the rights of its most vulnerable citizens ... the 14th Amendment's guarantees will apply only to those who are capable of defending them on their own."
It added: "Without a stay from this court, Terri will die a horrible death in a matter of days."
Terri's brother Bobby Schindler told FOX News: "We always hold out hope something's going to happen that's going to help save my sister's life, so we're extremely disappointed" in the court's decision.
Felos said he was relieved the battle over his client's wife was nearing an end.
"I sincerely hope the great focus and media attention on this case can peaceably settle as people move into this weekend in a frame of contemplation," Felos said. "I hope the parents do not keep pursuing fruitless legal options to the end — their time would be better served in reflection."
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said at the heart of the case, which was often overshadowed by a nasty family feud, was the tragedy of one woman's life.
"This is a horrible situation and there are no winners," he said. "This case is really about what Terri would have wanted."
George Washington University legal expert Jonathan Turley said the Supreme Court's decision was expected. It has previously refused to hear the case.
"There's no surprise at all here. The federal courts have been uniform in their view that there's no deprivation of the law here — there's no federal claim," Turley told FOX News. "This is a state issue," he added, noting that the issue is now left to the state of Florida, where the state governor and legislature have a stronger claim for getting involved in the issue than the federal government, many argue.
"This isn't the personal family tragedy it should be — it's a national reality show," added Dr. Jonathan Moreno of the Center for American Progress.
On Wednesday, before the Schindlers' appeal to the Supreme Court was filed, the Florida Senate rejected a bill that would have restored the feeding tube. Before that, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also voted not to review the decision of a previous three-judge panel from that court, which ruled against reinserting the tube.
The feeding tube was pulled on Friday afternoon with a Florida judge's approval. Doctors have said Terri would die within one or two weeks after removal of the tube. Terri's hospice has refused to provide details about her condition.
Bobby Schindler, who last saw his sister around midnight Wednesday, told FOX News that the best way he can describe Terri's appearance now is by comparing it to that of concentration camp prisoners in Germany during World War II.
"It's extremely sad and I can't believe I'm watching my sister die this way," he said. "It's the most inhumane, cruel thing — I'm at a loss for words. I don't even know how to describe what I'm feeling right now."
Hope Dwindles for Schindlers
The state court request by Gov. Bush and the state's social services agency to take custody of Schiavo may have been the Schindlers' final option. The request cited new allegations of neglect and challenged Schiavo's diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state.
The long-shot custody request by Bush was made before Judge Greer, the same judge who has presided over the case for several years and issued the ruling last month that allowed the feeding tube to be removed.
Greer on Thursday also denied a request by the Florida Department of Children and Families to unseal probate records, including financial information, in the guardianship case to determine if Schiavo has been abused or exploited. DCF argued it needed that information for their current investigation.
DCF filed a motion last month to intervene in the case, saying it was investigating 30 allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the brain-damaged woman and that her husband Michael was the suspect. The agency asked for a 60-day stay of removal of the tube but Greer denied the stay and refused them the right to intervene in the case.
Republican leaders in Congress early Thursday morning filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the Schindlers. Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Mel Martinez of Florida and Sam Brownback of Kansas filed the brief, which is an updated version of the one submitted to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
"I'm saddened by the decision of the court to reject Terri Schiavo's case for life despite a compelling case for reexamination of the medical evidence," Frist said in response to the high court's decision. "It is a sad day for her loving family and for their innocent and voiceless daughter."
Meanwhile, Michael Schiavo issued a response to the Schindlers' Supreme Court appeal for an emergency stay to reinsert the feeding tube.
"The status quo today is that Mrs. Schiavo is exactly where she would want to be; she has been released from unwanted, intrusive medical procedures according to her wishes," his response stated. "Preservation of the status quo would allow her to die in peace, and to maintain her dignity and autonomy. Petitioners [the Schindlers], however, ask this court to upset the peace that Mrs. Schiavo has attained, to reverse the fulfillment of her own wishes, and to dismantle 8 years of painstaking work by courts in both the Florida system and the federal system."
Supporters of Schiavo's parents grew increasingly dismayed, and police arrested 10 protesters outside her hospice for trying to bring her water.
"When I close my eyes at night, all I can see is Terri's face in front of me, dying, starving to death," Mary Schindler said Wednesday outside her daughter's Pinellas Park hospice. "Please, someone out there, stop this cruelty. Stop the insanity. Please let my daughter live."
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. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
Her parents contend that she could get better and that she would never have wanted to be cut off from food and water. Michael Schiavo has argued that his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially, and a state judge has repeatedly ruled in his favor.
Gov. Bush's request for state custody was based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state who observed Schiavo at her bedside but did not conduct an examination of her.
The neurologist, William Cheshire of the Mayo Clinic (search) in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organizations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube's removal.
Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota, a neurologist who was among those who made a previous diagnosis of Schiavo, said "there isn't a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won't find her in a vegetative state."
Arthur Kaplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said Cheshire's testimony was unlikely to sway Judge Greer.
"I don't think there's any basis at all for disputing she's in a permanent vegetative state. She won't recover," he told FOX News. "Dragging in a neurologist at the last minute who has an agenda is not going to be the basis for anybody to overturn a decision."
Florida state senators rejected a bill 21-18 Wednesday that would have prohibited patients like Schiavo from being denied food and water if they did not express their wishes in writing.
The Legislature had stepped in in 2003, and Schiavo's feeding tube was reinserted. But Gov. Bush's "Terri's Law" was later struck down by the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional attempt to interfere in the courts.
Bobby Schindler, who was watching from the Florida Senate gallery above the floor, covered his eyes with his hands and lowered his head during the debate.
"I'm here pleading for mercy. Have mercy on Theresa Marie Schiavo," said bill sponsor Sen. Dan Webster, a Republican.
But Senate Democratic Leader Les Miller warned: "By the time the ink is dry on the governor's signature, it will be declared unconstitutional, just like it was before."
FOX News' Phil Keating, Megyn Kendall, Molly Hooper, Liza Porteus, Jane Roh and The Associated Press contributed to this report.