PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – The feeding tube keeping a severely brain-damaged woman alive was removed Wednesday, all but ending an epic, 10-year legal battle between her husband and her parents.
Terri Schiavo (search), 39, had the tube removed at the Tampa Bay-area hospice where she has lived for several years, said her father, Bob Schindler. Attorneys representing her husband, Michael Schiavo, said it will take between a week and 10 days for her to die.
The parents want Terri Schiavo to live, and her husband says she would rather die. She has been in a vegetative state since 1990, when her heart stopped because of what doctors said may have been a chemical imbalance.
Bob Schindler said he and his wife, Mary, went in to see their daughter shortly after the tube was removed and gave her a kiss and hugged her. He said his daughter was not as responsive as they claim she normally has been.
"She's OK for the next couple of days," said Suzanne Carr, Terri Schiavo's sister. "We are just going to try to work some magic."
"I have to believe that somebody is doing something, somewhere to stop this judicial homicide," she said.
Michael Schiavo and his attorney George Felos were not immediately available for comment after the removal of the tube.
Several right-to-die cases across the nation have been fought in the courts in recent years, but few, if any, have been this drawn-out and bitter. The tangled case has already been handled by 19 separate judges and the tube has been ordered removed three times. At one point 2001, the tube was removed for two days before a judge ordered feeding to be resumed based on new evidence.
About 100 protesters stood outside the hospice Wednesday in what has become a 24-hour vigil staged by advocates for the disabled and anti-abortion activists.
Wednesday's removal came just hours after Gov. Jeb Bush (search) told the Schindlers that he was instructing his legal staff to find some means to block a court order allowing Michael Schiavo to end his wife's life. But even the family's lawyer has said their legal remedies have been exhausted.
"I am not a doctor, I am not a lawyer. But I know that if a person can be able to sustain life without life support, that should be tried," the governor said, adding the "ultimate decision of this is in the courts."
Family members held out hope that they could save her life and were heartened by the governor's last-minute effort.
"The family has not given up hope on Terri," the woman's brother, Bob Schindler Jr., said following a meeting with Bush. "We have spoken to the governor, and he hasn't given up hope either."
Schiavo's family members believe she is capable of learning how to eat and drink on her own and say she has shown signs of trying to communicate and could be rehabilitated.
Michael Schiavo says he is carrying out his wife's wishes that she not be kept alive artificially.
Felos has said that the Schindlers were "still in denial" over Terri Schiavo's wishes not to be kept alive with the tube, an IV-like device that pumps food and water into her stomach.
Doctors have testified that the noises and facial expressions Terri Schiavo makes are reflexes and do not indicate that she has enough mental capabilities to communicate with others.
The Florida Supreme Court has twice refused to hear the case, and it also has been rejected for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. On Tuesday, a Florida appeals court again refused to block removal of the tube.
The Schindlers first sought to remove Michael Schiavo as his wife's guardian in 1993 after a falling out over her medical care. They say he now has a conflict of interest because he is engaged to another woman and they have a child together.
The family has also leveled allegations that Michael Schiavo has abused Terri Schiavo, although the accusations have not been substantiated.
Michael Schiavo has refused to divorce his wife, saying that he fears her parents would ignore her desire to die if they became her guardians.