Published March 19, 2005
The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday denied without comment a House committee emergency request to have Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted. The decision came after the committee requested the court's ruling in order to buy time as lower court appeals on subpoenas issued by the committee are considered.
The severely brain-damaged Florida woman had depended on the feeding tube for the past 15 years before it was removed Friday afternoon. Without the tube, she will likely starve to death within a week or two. In a statement, Republican congressional leaders vowed to work through the weekend in order to save Schiavo's life.
A statement on Schiavo's parents' Web site read: "Terri's nutrition and hydration have now been withheld from her. It is unclear if the port that accommodates her feeding tube has been surgically removed as her family was ordered to leave her room."
But late Friday, a House committee asked Supreme Court justices to reinsert the feeding device while the committee files appeals in the lower courts to have its subpoenas recognized.
Before the removal of the tube, the same committee used its subpoena power to demand that Schiavo be brought before a congressional hearing, saying removing the tube amounted to "barbarism." The attorney for Schiavo's husband shot back at a news conference, calling the subpoenas "nothing short of thuggery."
"It was odious, it was shocking, it was disgusting and I think all Americans should be very alarmed about that," George Felos said.
Felos said his client was not at his wife's side during the procedure, citing difficulty of the circumstances. Schiavo's husband, who is Terri Schiavo's legal guardian and directed physicians to remove the tube, says his wife did not want to be kept alive artificially.
In the room with Terri Schiavo as her feeding tube was removed were a representative for Michael Schiavo, a physician and other health case providers, Felos said.
"It was a very calm, peaceful procedure with a high degree of emotion," Felos said. "Those there felt the need to pray and I'm told they did."
Felos said Michael Schiavo went to be with his wife, who is in a persistent vegetative state, after the tube was removed. No person has ever come out of a persistent vegetative state.
The removal is a major, but not necessarily final, defeat for Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), and the activists and lawmakers who have lobbied to keep the 41-year-old Florida woman alive.
Felos indicated that the Schindlers have already begun legal motions to have the tube reinserted.
The tube was originally scheduled for removal at 1 p.m. EST, under orders from Schiavo's husband Michael, but legal wrangling directed from as high up as the U.S. House of Representatives delayed the procedure for nearly three hours.
Felos called the political maneuvering "shameful."
"To think that your parent or loved one could be in a nursing home or hospital and a congressman can issue a subpoena forcing you to have your loved one treated against their will is absolutely shocking and the lowest type of political strong-arming," Felos said in a news conference following the removal.
Schiavo suffered severe brain damage when she collapsed in 1990 and her heart temporarily stopped, possibly as a result of an eating disorder.
After being told by doctors that his wife, who could no longer speak, would never recover, Michael Schiavo asked a court to allow him to stop treatment. On Feb. 11, 2000, Circuit Court Judge George Greer approved the request to remove the feeding tube.
Michael Schiavo has always insisted that his wife told him she did not want to be kept alive artificially. His very religious parents-in-law dispute that claim. They also insist their daughter will eventually recover if kept alive.
The case ignited the most heated debate over the right to die since Dr. Jack Kevorkian (search) was convicted of helping a patient commit suicide in 1999.
Republican lawmakers, along with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother, President George W. Bush, have called for keeping Terri Schiavo alive. Florida courts have almost consistently decided in Michael Schiavo's favor.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president discussed the case with his brother and members of Florida's congressional delegation during his swing through Florida on Friday to discuss Social Security reform.
"We're continuing to monitor developments," McClellan said. "The president believes when there are serious questions or doubts in a case like this that the presumption ought to be in favor of life."
Gov. Jeb Bush said the judge's decision "breaks my heart" and noted that it often takes two decades for a death row inmate's appeals to go through the system.
"There's this rush to starve her to death," Bush said.
But Rep. Henry Waxman of California, senior Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, called the subpoenas a "flagrant abuse of power" and said they amounted to Congress dictating the medical care Terri Schiavo should receive.
"Congress is turning the Schiavo family's personal tragedy into a national political farce," Waxman said.
Terri Schiavo's feeding tube has been removed and reinserted twice before. In 2003, when the tube was removed for the second time, Gov. Bush hastily pushed a new law that allowed him to order the tube reinserted.
The measure, dubbed "Terri's Law," was later ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Bush's request to consider the law.
Religious groups and other activists have been a steady presence outside the Pinellas Park, Fla., hospice where Schiavo lives, and they were out in force Friday as the clock ticked down to 1 p.m. Most prayed and sang hymns, sometimes led by religious leaders.
A number of protesters who had covered their mouths with red tape solemnly looked on Woodside Hospice (search). On the tape the word "life" was written in capital letters.
Several churches in the area held special services in Schiavo's honor.
Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of geriatric and internal medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said that while coma patients recover, patients in a persistent vegetative state do not.
He also said it was wrong to characterize Schiavo's death as starvation.
"What happens is she loses fluid from her body, she enters a peaceful coma and she gradually passes away, very gently and very peacefully," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.