DUNEDIN, Fla. – A law pushed through by Gov. Jeb Bush (search) to keep a severely brain-damaged woman alive was struck down by a Florida judge Thursday in the latest turn in one of the nation's longest and most bitter right-to-die cases.
The governor's office filed an immediate appeal.
Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird ruled Terri's Law, named after Terri Schiavo (search), is unconstitutional because it violates the disabled woman's right to privacy and delegates legislative power to the governor.
The law was passed in October, just days after the removal of a feeding tube that has helped keep Schiavo alive for more than a decade. Bush immediately invoked the new law to order the feeding tube reinserted.
The tube will remain in place while the governor pursues his appeal.
Schiavo's husband, Michael, has fought a long court battle to remove the feeding tube and carry out what he said were his wife's wishes not to be kept alive artificially. The dispute has pitted him against his in-laws, Bob and Mary Schindler, who say her condition could improve.
Baird said Terri's Law (search) improperly gives the governor "unbridled discretion" and interferes with Terri Schiavo's right to make her own medical decisions.
The judge said Terri's Law "in every instance, ignores the existence of this right and authorizes the governor to act according to his personal discretion."
He said the governor failed to spell out any compelling state interest that would be adequate to override Schiavo's rights.
"It is profoundly disappointing that the mere bald and naked assertions Mr. Schiavo makes go untested in this proceeding," said Ken Connor, Bush's attorney. "The effect of all of this is that Mr. Schiavo gets to kill his wife through starvation and dehydration if this order is upheld."
Bush, who was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, declined interview requests from The Associated Press.
Bob Schindler lashed out at Baird, saying county judges "have displayed an utterly cavalier attitude and a complete disregard for the rule of law."
Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, said his client was "pleased and grateful."
"This is a very big day for Terri, for the enforcement of Terri's rights," he said.
Both sides said the case could go before the Florida Supreme Court.
Terri Schiavo, 40, was left severely brain damaged more than 14 years ago after her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance brought on by an eating disorder. She left no written directive about her wishes if she were ever incapacitated.
Several right-to-die cases across the nation have been fought in the courts in recent years, but few, if any, have been this drawn-out and bitter. The tangled legal fight between Michael Schiavo and his in-laws has been heard by at least 20 judges in at least six courts.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal has previously upheld Michael Schiavo's legal quest to remove the tube.
The governor's attorneys have defended Terri's Law, saying it creates an additional layer of protection for a disabled woman who left no record of her wishes and whose husband has a conflict of interest in wanting to end her life.
"The governor believes very strongly that this statute is constitutional and there are a variety of compelling state interests here. The first is the protection of innocent life," Connor said.
Michael Schiavo is engaged to another woman with whom he has two children. At one point in the case, he stood to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars from a medical trust fund that paid for his wife's care; the money has largely been depleted through legal bills.
Bush's decision to intercede in the case brought criticism from Democrats and accusations that the Republican was pandering to anti-abortion conservatives.