WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court refused Monday to reinstate a Florida law passed to keep a severely brain-damaged woman hooked to a feeding tube, clearing the way for it to be removed. How soon that would happen, however, was unclear.
The Florida Supreme Court had struck down the law last fall, and the justices were the last hope for state leaders who defended the law in a bitter long running dispute over the fate of Terri Schiavo (search).
Her husband, Michael Schiavo (search), contends she never wanted to be kept alive artificially. But her parents told justices in a filing that their son-in-law is trying to rush her death so he can inherit her estate and be free to marry another woman.
The Supreme Court did not comment in rejecting an appeal from Gov. Jeb Bush (search), who argued that the state had the authority to step in and pass the 2003 law that ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted six days after her husband had it removed.
Florida judges will now decide, after the Supreme Court's action, what happens next in the case.
"It's judicial homicide. They want to murder her," her father, Robert Schindler (search), said Monday. "I have no idea what the next step will be. We're going to fight for her as much as we can fight for her. She deserves a chance."
The case was one of two right-to-die appeals pending at the high court. Justices are expected to decide in the next month whether to consider a Bush administration request to block the nation's only law allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients die more quickly. Oregon voters passed that law in 1998.
At issue Monday was "Terri's Law," which the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously was an unconstitutional effort to override court rulings.
The 41-year-old Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart temporarily stopped beating because of an eating disorder. In 2001, her parents lost an emergency Supreme Court appeal seeking to keep her feeding tube in place, but more appeals followed.
Terri Schiavo has lived in nursing homes. She can breathe on her own but depends on a feeding tube to stay alive because she cannot swallow on her own. She left no written directive.
Issues in dispute are whether she is in a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery, and if she had said before her illness that she did not want to be kept alive by machines.
Washington attorney Robert Destro, representing Florida, told justices to consider "the most vulnerable of our citizens who cannot speak for themselves."
Michael Schiavo did not file any arguments with the court, but his attorney had accused Florida leaders of engaging in delaying tactics to prevent Terri Schiavo from carrying out her right to die.
The case is Jeb Bush v. Michael Schiavo, 04-757.