PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – Lawyers for the parents of Terri Schiavo (search) promised to begin another flurry of legal activity next week after a judge said removal of the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube can take place in three weeks.
Circuit Judge George Greer (search) ruled Friday that Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, can stop her tube feedings on March 18 at 1 p.m., allowing him to carry out what he says were his wife's wishes not to be kept alive artificially.
The decision came on the 15th anniversary of Terri Schiavo's collapse, when a chemical imbalance caused her heart to temporarily stop beating and left her severely brain damaged.
In the meantime, the 41-year-old woman's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), are expected to ask an appeals court to block the order from taking effect and file numerous other motions to try to convince the courts to allow the feeding tube to remain.
The Schindlers and their son-in-law have fought each other in court since the late 1990s on whether Terri Schiavo should live or die. The two sides have battled through scores of opinions and rulings and tens of thousands of pages of filings.
The feud has taken on elements of a soap opera, with allegations that it began as a fight over more than $1 million awarded to Terri Schiavo in a medical malpractice case that her husband stood to inherit.
Michael Schiavo has also been accused by his in-laws of having a conflict of interest in wanting his wife dead because he has started a new family with another woman.
The Schindlers do not believe their daughter is in a persistent vegetative state as court-appointed doctors have ruled.
But on Friday, Greer wrote he no longer wishes to grant delays in the long-running family feud, and that the case must end.
"The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions," Greer wrote. "There will always be 'new' issues."
Terri Schiavo's parents took the ruling as reason for hope.
"It's a relief, a temporary relief," Terri's father, Bob Schindler, told reporters outside the hospice where his daughter is cared for. "I don't see it as a victory, the victory is when we take Terri home and we get her therapy."
Terri's brother, Bobby Schindler, said of the judge's order, "It could have been better, it could have been worse. We're pleased we get at least three weeks. But we're disappointed some of our motions have to be heard in that time."
The judge made his decision after pleadings from the Schindlers that they need more time to appeal some legal issues, raise others and pursue additional medical tests that might prove their daughter has more mental capabilities than previously thought.
"We want to put forward the most aggressive defense we can of Terri Schiavo's life," Schindler attorney David Gibbs III said.
Greer said the Schindlers will have to demonstrate to the appeals court that their requests have merit and are worth a stay.
George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, issued a statement applauding Greer's decision.
"I am very pleased that the court has recognized there must be a finality to this process." Felos said. "I am hopeful and confident that the appellate court will also agree that Terri's wishes not to be kept alive artificially must now be enforced."
Terri Schiavo left no written directive.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush said the ruling was a victory because it gives Terri Schiavo more time. Bush had intervened in October 2003 to keep her alive six days after the tube was removed.
"The stay is wonderful because it keeps Terri Schiavo alive," Alia Faraj said. "The governor's thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri during this very difficult time."
The Department of Children & Families also is seeking to intervene. Attorneys for the Schindlers said the agency wanted a 60-day stay to investigate allegations she is being mistreated by being denied appropriate medical care and rehabilitation. Previous similar charges have proved unfounded.