WASHINGTON – The feeding tube that has kept a severely brain-damaged woman alive for the past 15 years has been removed, FOX News has confirmed, but legal wrangling continued Friday as lawmakers fought over the fate of Terri Schiavo.
Lawyers from the U.S. House of Representatives went to Florida to deliver subpoenas to several individuals involved in the controversial case. Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for those 15 years, had been scheduled to have the tube — her means of survival — removed at 1 p.m. EST Friday, on instruction from her husband, Michael.
U.S. House Republican leaders were in the process of appealing the latest decision to allow removal of the tube before it was actually taken out.
Pinellas Circuit Court Chief Judge David Demers ordered that the feeding tube remain in place as his colleague, Judge George Greer, held a hearing in the case that began at 12:30 p.m. EST. The chief counsel of the House of Representatives requested a phone link into Greer's hearing.
FOX News has learned that the counsel for the House Government Reform Committee (search) issued subpoenas to Schiavo herself, her husband, the hospice administrator and two of the patient's attending physician.
FOX News has obtained copies of the subpoenas, which direct the recipients to appear at the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast in Pinellas Park, on Friday, March 25 at 10 a.m. EST.
In addition to the testimony, the subpoenas require that Schiavo's feeding tube remain in place, stating, "No things including those things reflecting data, information, or records called for by this request shall be destroyed, modified, transferred, disconnected, discontinued, or otherwise made inaccessible to the Committee."
Further, it reads: "This request is continuing in nature and applies to any newly deployed things required for the continued hydration and nutrition of Theresa Schiavo."
Since Terri Schiavo herself has been designated a congressional witness, Schiavo's family or other concerned parties can go to the U.S. attorney in Florida and ask for a temporary restraining order against anyone wishing to harm her, sources on Capitol Hill say.
An 'Act of Barbarism'
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, House Whip Roy Blunt (search), R-Mo., and other lawmakers on Friday held a press conference urging the court to modify its ruling so the Schiavos and others could appear before the committee.
Saying removal of the tube would be "an act of barbarism" that must be prevented, DeLay blasted Sens. Barbara Boxer (search), D-Calif., Ron Wyden (search), D-Ore., and Carl Levin (search), D-Mich., who he said blocked Senate passage of the Protection of Incapacitated Persons Act (search) of 2005, a measure inspired by the Schiavo case.
"Those senators responsible for blocking our bill ... have put Miss Schiavo's life at risk," DeLay said. "We care about saving Terri Schiavo's life. The House bill will do that."
He also said Schiavo was very much alive.
"She's not just barely alive, she's not being kept alive, she is alive as you and I, and as such, we have a moral obligation to protect and defend her from the fate premeditated by the Florida courts," DeLay said. "This is not over — we are still working."
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn, on Friday said: "The Senate and the House remain dedicated to saving Terri Schiavo's life. While discussions over possible legislative remedies continue, the Senate and the House are taking action to keep her alive in the interim."
The effort came after lawmakers in both Washington and Tallahassee failed in attempts to pass legislation to keep Schiavo's husband from having the tube pulled, despite heavy lobbying by Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.
"Bob and Mary Schindler have been praying to God for a miracle to save their daughter and we believe right now the miracle may come from the middle district, the federal court here in Tampa. The miracle might be these actions taken by the United States Congress," said David Gibbs, the Schindler's attorney. "But we believe Terri's is a life worth living."
But a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida told FOX News that the office will not get involved in the Schiavo matter unless instructed to do so by the U.S. attorney general.
Some lawyers told FOX News that Congress had stepped over the line and that the actions being taken were not within its powers.
The courts have decided in the past that it is up to states to make such decisions. The Florida Supreme Court twice ruled that the order to remove Schiavo's feeding tube was consistent with state and federal law.
Gibbs said he would ask a federal judge in Tampa to block the removal and review the actions of state courts.
Such habeas corpus appeals seek to require the government to justify its actions.
"We are going to ask him to issue a stay because in this case, state action would be used to end the life of an innocent, disabled woman," Gibbs said.
The Florida House on Thursday passed a bill 78-37 to block the withholding of food and water from patients in a persistent vegetative state who did not leave specific instructions regarding their care. But hours later, the Senate defeated a different measure 21-16, and one of the nine Republicans voting against indicated that any further votes would be futile.
The Florida Senate adjourned at 10 a.m. Friday without taking action on the bill. The chamber will convene again on Tuesday.
Heading to Washington?
In an effort to gain time, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (search), R-Wyo., has requested the presence of Terri Schiavo and her husband for a March 28 hearing regarding health care provided to non-ambulatory patients.
Federal criminal law protects witnesses called before official congressional committee proceedings from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness' attendance or testimony.
The law also protects a witness from anyone who — by threats, force, or by any threatening letter or communication — influences, obstructs, or impedes an inquiry or investigation by Congress.
Terri's brother, Bobby Schindler, told FOX News that Michael Schiavo was "scared to death" to bring Terri to Washington.
That "will allow Washington and the whole world to see Terri and how very alive she is," he said.
Schindler claimed the family had about 30 affadavits from doctors saying that his sister's condition could improve.
"She has an incredible will to live," he added.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Friday that President Bush "appreciates the actions of those in Congress who are working to defend life."
Bush earlier issued a statement saying: "The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues ... Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life. Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern."
His brother, Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, long has supported the parents' efforts and urged lawmakers to act before it was too late.
Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance, and court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state. Michael Schiavo says she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, and say she could get better.
Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, wouldn't comment on when and how the removal will take place or whether Michael would visit his wife before it happened.
Doctors have said it could take a week or two for Terri Schiavo to die once the tube that delivers water and nutrients is removed.
Dr. Sean Morrison of Mount Sinai Hospital (search) in New York told FOX News that patients in vegetative states such as Schiavo's do not have painful deaths upon removal of feeding tubes.
"They don't experience hunger or discomfort, so she doesn't suffer," Morrison said. "What happens is, she loses fluids from her body, she enters into a peaceful coma and she passes away very gently."
FOX News' Molly Hooper, Liza Porteus and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.