PINELLAS PARK, Fla., March 25 -- A federal judge Friday turned down another request to intervene in the case of a brain-damaged Florida woman, and even some of the most ardent supporters of a seven-year battle to keep Terri Schiavo alive began to resign themselves to what appeared inevitable: saying goodbye for the last time.
A string of courtroom defeats and bleak prospects for victory in further appeals left Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, with a fast-shrinking field of options. Friday morning, U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore, who also had ruled against them earlier in the week, denied the parents' request to restore Schiavo's feeding tube while the family seeks other legal options. That decision from the court in Tampa came after the couple watched the day before as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal and a Pinellas County judge blocked Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) from taking custody of the brain-damaged woman to have her feeding tube reinserted.
Bob Schindler, Terri Schiavo's father, speaks to the media accompanied by his son Bobby in front of the Woodside Hospice.
(Carlos Barria - Reuters)
"Terri is weakening and she's down to her last hours," Robert Schindler told reporters Friday morning. "Something has to be done and it has to be done quick."
The legal setbacks angered many of the protesters here and Thursday drew the largest crowds yet to demonstrations outside Schiavo's hospice, where the phrase "death watch" was repeated over and over. Frustration spilled out on radio talk shows, with some callers asking for drastic and highly unlikely measures, including mobilizing the National Guard to seize Schiavo before she dies.
Robert Schindler refused to answer questions about such calls.
"Absent a kidnapping, Terri Schiavo is going to remain in the hospice," said George Felos, attorney for Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, who says his wife would not want to live in her current condition. "The entire judicial system of the United States -- state courts and entire federal court system -- has said this case must end. This case is over."
Yet even as Felos was declaring a conclusion to the case Thursday, the governor pressed appeals arguing that the state has authority to take custody of Schiavo to investigate abuse allegations and to consider a state medical report that says she may not be in a vegetative state. But courts have consistently rejected previous appeals related to abuse allegations and new medical diagnoses.
The Schindlers' attorneys argued for nearly four hours Thursday night before Whittemore. When one of the attorneys compared removing Schiavo's feeding tube to murder, Whittemore said: "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."
The area around the courthouse was briefly evacuated to allow a bomb squad to detonate a suspicious backpack, but the hearing was not interrupted.
In his ruling Friday morning, Whittemore said Schiavo's parents had not convinced him that their case was likely to succeed and he therefore opted not to issue a temporary order that would have restored her feeding. The Schindlers then filed an appeal the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which turned them down twice earlier this week, news services reported.
As it became more apparent that Terri Schiavo may die soon, Michael Schiavo's legal team began to disclose plans for her burial. The courts have rejected requests by the Schindlers to block Michael Schiavo from having her cremated. The parents say cremation would violate the religious beliefs of their daughter, who was a practicing Catholic. Felos said Schiavo would be cremated and buried in a plot owned by Michael Schiavo's family in Pennsylvania, where the couple grew up.
"All week, my heart has been waiting for that angel to come in and save her again, just as it has in the past," Sue Pickwell, a childhood friend of Terri Schiavo's, said during a phone interview from Pennsylvania that became halting and emotional when the topic turned from the past to the present. "But I know, eventually, if all their attempts just don't work out, I have to come to terms with it."
Some Catholics have marveled at the weighty symbolic possibility that Schiavo, 41, could die between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the holiest period on the church's calendar. "That's the kind of convergence no one could have planned," said Richard M. Doerflinger, an opponent of ending Schiavo's feeding and vice president of the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "People will say, 'Terri Schiavo died for our sins in a society that does not care enough for the helpless.' "
The Schindler family spent the day shuttling between the Woodside Hospice and a small gift store across the street donated for their use by the owner. The short walks inevitably turned into slow processions as camera crews and reporters crowded around the family and followed them until they reached a line of police guarding the one-story brick and shingle hospice.