PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – For Terri Schiavo’s parents, the legal doors closed one after the other, with judges in Washington, D.C., and in Florida rebuffing their desperate efforts to keep their daughter alive.
So with only a slim hope of any further court intervention, the waiting began.
With Thursday’s rejections by both the U.S. Supreme Court and state judges of Bob and Mary Schindler’s pleas to reinsert the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube, the parents were left with the unlikely chance that Gov. Jeb Bush would somehow find a way to intervene or a federal judge who had turned them down before would see things their way.
As of Thursday afternoon, Schiavo, 41, had been without food or water for six full days and was showing signs of dehydration – flaky skin, dry tongue and lips, sunken eyes – according to attorneys and friends of the Schindler family. Doctors have said she would probably die within a week or two of the tube being pulled.
“It’s very frustrating. Every minute that goes by is a minute that Terri is being starved and dehydrated to death,” said her brother, Bobby Schindler, who said seeing her was like looking at “pictures of prisoners in concentration camps.”
The brother of Schiavo’s husband, though, strongly disagreed with that assessment, telling CNN on Thursday night that Schiavo “does look a little withdrawn” but insisting that she was not in pain. He added that starvation is simply “part of the death process.”
“I’m sure you saw all the video of her before she had the tube removed,” Brian Schiavo said. “She didn’t look all that well.”
A lawyer for the husband, Michael Schiavo, said he hoped the woman’s parents and the governor would finally give up their fight.
“We believe it’s time for that to stop as we approach this Easter weekend and that Mrs. Schiavo be able to die in peace,” attorney George Felos said.
The Schindlers appeared before a federal judge in Tampa late Thursday to make another emergency request that the feeding tube be reattached while they pursue claims that Schiavo’s religious and due-process rights were violated. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore previously rejected a similar request and said Thursday he would work overnight to issue a new ruling.
At the hearing, Whittemore asked Schindler lawyer David Gibbs III to focus on the legal issues because he was aware of Terri Schiavo’s declining health. Gibbs argued that, as she lay dying, her rights to life and privacy were being violated.
As Gibbs attempted to liken Schiavo’s death to a murder, the judge interrupted.
“That is the emotional rhetoric of this case. It does not influence this court and cannot influence this court. I want you to know it and I want the public to know it,” Whittemore said.
Felos argued that Schiavo’s constitutional rights haven’t been violated and that the Schindlers’ arguments were simply a rehash of what the court has already heard and ruled on.
“The real grievance is not they (the Schindlers) did not have a day in court, that they did not have due process,” Felos said. “The real grievance is they disagree with the result.”
Meanwhile, the area around the federal courthouse was evacuated during the hearing after a suspicious backpack was found outside. The hearing was not interrupted, and the package was safely detonated by police.
Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. She left no living will, but her husband argued that she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that and contend she could get better.
The dispute has led to what may be the longest, most heavily litigated right-to-die case in U.S. history.
The U.S. Supreme Court, without explanation, refused Thursday to order the feeding tube reinserted. The case worked its way through the federal courts and reached the Supreme Court after Congress passed an extraordinary law over the weekend to let the Schindlers take their case to federal court.
Later Thursday, Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer declined to hear Bush’s new allegations that Schiavo was neglected and abused and that her diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state may be wrong.
“The requested intervention … appears to be brought for the purpose of circumventing the courts’ final judgment and order setting the removal date in violation of the separation of powers doctrine,” Greer wrote.
Bush appealed that decision to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The Florida Supreme Court later declined to take up a separate appeal of a Greer injunction that blocked the state’s social services agency from taking temporary custody of Schiavo while challenges are argued. State law allows the Department of Children & Families to act in emergency situations of adult abuse.
Also Thursday, the department filed another petition before Greer seeking to provide emergency protective services for Schiavo. Greer had not scheduled a hearing, but he indicated one could occur Monday, according to Bush’s office.
Even before the flurry of adverse court rulings, the governor acknowledged Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press that his hands were increasingly tied.
“It is frustrating for people to think that I have power that I don’t, and not be able to act,” Bush said. “I don’t have embedded special powers. I wish I did in this particular case.”
In his decision, Greer said an affidavit from a neurologist who believes that Schiavo is “minimally conscious” was not enough to set aside his decision to allow the withdrawal of food and water.
“By clear and convincing evidence, it was determined she did not want to live under such burdensome conditions and that she would refuse such medical treatment-assistance,” Greer wrote.
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