Congress Reaches Compromise on Schiavo

As a deal in Congress was worked out to have federal courts decide Terri Schiavo's (search) fate, emotions swelled outside the brain-damaged woman's hospice room Saturday, with protesters arrested after they symbolically tried to smuggle in bread and water on her second day without a feeding tube.

As supporters maintained a vigil outside the hospice, Schiavo's mother pleaded for the 41-year-old woman's life.

"We laugh together, we cry together, we smile together, we talk together," Mary Schindler (search) told reporters. "Please, please, please save my little girl."

Congressional leaders announced a compromise between Senate and House Republicans that would allow the brain-damaged woman's case to be reviewed by federal courts that could restore her feeding tube.

The Senate convened briefly Saturday evening to give formal permission for the House (search) to meet Sunday, when it otherwise would be adjourned for the Easter recess.

The plan is for the House to act on the two-page bill Sunday or just after midnight Monday morning. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the Senate then would act on the House legislation, assuming it passes the House as envisioned, and rush the bill to the president for signature into law.

President Bush changed his schedule to return to Washington from his Texas ranch on Sunday to be on hand to sign the legislation.

"We should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a living human being," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "That's the very least we can do for her."

Schiavo's husband, Michael, who has fought her parents in court for years to have the feeding tube removed, urged Congress to stay out of the matter, saying he is just trying to carry out his wife's wishes.

"I feel like the government has just trampled all over my personal life," he said on CNN's "Larry King Live" Friday. "It is uncomprehensible that a government can walk all over somebody's private judicial matter, because of their own personal feelings."

The measure would effectively take Schiavo's fate out of Florida state courts, where judges ordered the feeding tube removed on Friday, and allow Schiavo's parents to take their case to a federal judge. DeLay said that would likely mean restoration of the feeding tube "for as long as this appeal endures."

The development was the latest in an epic right-to-die battle between Schiavo's parents and Michael Schiavo over whether she should be permitted to die or kept alive by the feeding tube.

"We're elated primarily that they put politics to one side, and they're concentrating on the issue of saving Terri's life," Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler, said late Saturday.

Randall Terry, an anti-abortion activist who is acting as a Schindler family spokesman, said the parents also were concerned about the tight security in their daughter's room, which includes a police officer standing guard.

"They are so determined to kill her that they don't want mom or dad to even put an ice chip in her mouth," Terry said.

Passage of the measure would require the presence of only a handful of lawmakers. Congress is on its spring recess, making it more difficult to locate lawmakers.

Schiavo could linger for one or two weeks if the tube is not reinserted — as has happened twice before.

The attempted compromise would mark the latest wrinkle in the long-running legal battle over the fate of Schiavo, who doctors say is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Her husband has insisted she never wanted to live in such a condition.

"I am 100 percent sure," Michael Schiavo said Saturday on NBC's "Today." He did not respond to requests for an interview from The Associated Press.

Michael Schiavo was at his wife's bedside after the tube was removed and said he felt that "peace was happening" for her. "And I felt like she was finally going to get what she wants, and be at peace and be with the Lord," he said.

About three dozen supporters of Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, maintained a vigil outside the hospice where she lives. Four people, including right wing leader James Gordon "Bo" Gritz, were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges when they attempted to bring Schiavo bread and water, which she would be unable to consume.

"A woman is being starved to death, and I have to do something," said Brandi Swindell, 28, from Boise, Idaho. "There are just certain things that you have to do, that you have to try."

Schiavo's parents have been attempting for years to remove Michael Schiavo as their daughter's guardian and keep in place the tube that has kept her alive for more than 15 years.

Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when a chemical imbalance apparently brought on by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating for a few minutes. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding-and-hydration tube to keep her alive.

Court-appointed physicians testified her brain damage was so severe that there was no hope she would ever have any cognitive abilities.

The case has encompassed at least 19 judges in at least six different courts.

In 2001, Schiavo went without food and water for two days before a judge ordered the tube reinserted when a new witness surfaced.

When the tube was removed in October 2003, the governor pushed through "Terri's Law," and six days later the tube was reinserted. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in September 2004 that Bush had overstepped his authority and declared the law unconstitutional.