Fla. Comatose Woman Gets Fed After
October 22, 2003, 12:13 PM EDT
The fight over the life of a brain-damaged woman took a dramatic twist when a hospital began rehydrating her on orders from Gov. Jeb Bush after 11th-hour action by the Legislature. Her husband's lawyer said angrily Wednesday that she was "literally ... abducted from her deathbed."
Experts said the government's action raises legal issues that could complicate the case even further.
Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube was removed last week, began receiving liquids intravenously Tuesday after lawmakers rushed to pass a bill designed to save her life. A judge later rejected a request by her husband, Michael Schiavo, to overturn Bush's order, at least for now.
"It was just an absolute trampling of her personal rights and her dignity," Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, said Wednesday on NBC's "Today." "We believe that a court sooner or later, we hope sooner, will find this law to be unconstitutional."
He also said Terri Schiavo suffered signs of organ failure Tuesday and the reintroduction of fluids in her system after a week without food or water could just make her suffer more before dying. A Morton Plant Hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday she could not release any information on Schiavo.
Terri Schiavo, 39, has been in a vegetative state since 1990, when her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought to keep her alive and say she still could recover. Her husband says she would rather die than be kept alive artificially, though her parents said she never told them of such a wish.
Despite the intervention by the state, Michael Schiavo remains his wife's official guardian, and can designate who is allowed to see her.
Her brother, Bob Schindler Jr., was turned away Tuesday night when he attempted to see her, said attorneys for Bob and Mary Schindler. "They have been told Terri can have no visitors under Michael's order," said Tom Brodersen, a paralegal who is a member of the Schindlers' legal team.
Felos did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Observers wondered whether the Legislature and the governor overstepped constitutional boundaries by ramming through legislation that overruled the courts.
"It presents a new legal issue that I've never heard of," said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen Grimes. Former Attorney General Bob Butterworth said the upcoming legal wrangling "could be fairly historic."
The feeding tube was removed last Wednesday after a court refused to intervene. Doctors had said she would die within a week to 10 days without nutrition and water.
An ambulance took Schiavo from a Pinellas Park hospice to Morton Plant Hospital on Tuesday after Bush issued his order to resume feeding her. A crowd cheered outside as she was taken away.
"I'm ecstatic she's being fed again," said her brother, Bob Schindler Jr. "I don't think I can describe the way I feel right now. It's been unreal."
Hours earlier, the Senate voted 23-15 for legislation to save Terri Schiavo. Within minutes, the House voted 73-24 to send the bill to Bush. The governor signed it into law and issued his order about an hour later.
"It's restored my belief in God," said Terri Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler.
Michael Schiavo was "deeply troubled, angry and saddened that his wife's wishes have become a political pingpong," Felos said. He told NBC it was "an absolute horrible tragedy for Terri Schiavo, literally being abducted from her deathbed and her death process."
Felos filed a request for an injunction, arguing Terri Schiavo's constitutional rights were being violated, but Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer denied it on technical grounds. Felos refiled the request and State Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird also refused to grant it, instead asking Fejos to submit further arguments.
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe said the action by Bush and the Legislature "violates the core principles" of a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The court ruled in a Missouri case that Nancy Cruzan, who had been fed through a tube for seven years, could be permitted to die if "clear and convincing evidence" proved that was what she wanted. Her parents had fought for the right to remove the tube.
"I've never seen a case in which the state legislature treats someone's life as a political football in quite the way this is being done," said Tribe.
Although the Legislature acted swiftly, even some who supported the bill expressed concern about it.
"I hope, I really do hope we've done the right thing," said Senate President Jim King, a Republican. "I keep on thinking 'What if Terri didn't really want this done at all?' May God have mercy on all of us."
Opponents said the government was stepping in where it had no business being.
"How dare this Legislature and this governor substitute its judgment for the family's?" said Sen. Steven Geller, a Democrat.
Earlier in Tampa, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday denied a request by an advocacy group that Schiavo be kept alive so it could investigate whether removal of the tube was abusive, a possibility evoked by some backers of Tuesday's legislative action.
"Let us err on the part of not condemning this woman to a painful death that she can feel," said Republican Sen. Anna Cowin.
The bill sent to Bush was designed to be as narrow as possible. It is limited to cases in which the patient left no living will, is in a persistent vegetative state and has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed and where a family member has challenged the removal.
The Florida Supreme Court had twice refused to hear the case, and it also had been rejected for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, a Florida appeals court again refused to block removal of the tube.
Described by her family as a shy woman who loved animals and music, Terri Schindler met Michael Schiavo at a Pennsylvania community college in 1982. They wed two years later. After they moved to Florida, she worked in an insurance agency.
During the years she has been in a vegetative state, her parents reported their daughter laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices. Video showing the dark-haired woman appearing to interact with her family was televised nationally. But the court-appointed doctor said the noises and facial expressions she made were reflexes.
Both sides accused each other of being motivated by greed over a $1 million medical malpractice award from doctors who failed to diagnose the chemical imbalance.
The Schindlers also contended that Michael Schiavo should not be his wife's guardian because he has dated another woman for several years and has a child with her. Michael Schiavo refused their calls on him to divorce his wife, saying he feared the parents would ignore her desire to die if they became her guardians.
Copyright (c) 2003, Newsday, Inc.
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