Fla. Gov't Enters Coma Debate

Florida House (search) lawmakers stepped into the contentious battle over the fate of a brain-damaged woman slowly starving to death, voting the governor new powers to restore her feeding tube.

The Florida Senate (search) scheduled a vote Tuesday on a House-passed bill to let Gov. Jeb Bush (search) intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo (search), one of the nation's longest and most bitter euthanasia cases.

Schiavo has been at the center of a court battle between her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and her husband, Michael Schiavo. The parents want Terri Schiavo to live, and her husband says she would rather die.

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. Last week, a Florida appeals court again refused to block removal of the tube.

The House measure would give the state's governor 15 days to order a feeding tube to be reinserted in cases like Schiavo's. The governor's power would be limited to cases where a person has left no living will, is in a persistent vegetative state, has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed and where a family member has challenged the removal.

Bush said in a statement earlier Monday that lawmakers understand the "unique and tragic circumstances of Ms. Schiavo's case, and I am hopeful the Legislature will pass a bill immediately."

The House voted 68-23 for the bill late Monday. The Senate Rules Committee planned to take the bill up Tuesday morning, with the full Senate scheduling a vote by early evening.

George Felos, attorney for Michael Schiavo, said he thinks the legislation would be unconstitutional. He said it is Terri Schiavo's right under the Florida Constitution to not be kept alive artificially.

Court-appointed doctors have described the 39-year-old woman as being in a vegetative state, caused when her heart stopped in 1990 from a suspected chemical imbalance. Her feeding tube was removed Wednesday.

Doctor said she will die in a week to 10 days without the tube.

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.

During a two-hour debate in the House, several Democrats argued that the Constitution doesn't allow the Legislature to give governors the power to overrule the courts.

"This bill so oversteps our role it ... turns democracy on its head," Rep. Dan Gelber said.

But Republicans said that where judges might be wrong, especially in cases like Schiavo's, such legislation is desperately needed.

"The Constitution is supposed to protect the people of this state," said Rep. Sandy Murman. "Who is protecting this girl?"

The House action came hours after a state agency for the disabled asked a U.S. judge in Tampa to keep the woman alive so it could investigate a claim that she is being abused by having the tube removed. The judge was expected to rule as early as Tuesday.