Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue and a Christian activist, served as family spokesman, recounting the wrenching details of their bedside visits. "She looked like she just came from Auschwitz," he said Schiavo's sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, told him after visiting Schiavo. He told reporters that Mary Schindler became ill after leaning toward her daughter, who has been without food or water since Friday. "It was as if Terri was begging her for help," he said.
The Schindlers have been insulated by as many as 30 family members, some of whom occasionally peered through the tinted windows of the gift shop's door. Couches and chairs have been brought in to create an impromptu living room, where family members have sat chatting for hours to try to distract from their grief, said Mary Schindler's brother, Mike Tammaro. There is no television or radio, he said, only the constant chime of cell phones.
Bob Schindler, Terri Schiavo's father, speaks to the media accompanied by his son Bobby in front of the Woodside Hospice.
(Carlos Barria - Reuters)
A parade of supportive celebrities have phoned the Schindlers, Tammaro said. His sister or her husband have spoken with Mel Gibson, Pat Boone and "Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star Patricia Heaton. Mary Schindler "is having a hard time realizing [Schiavo's] days are running out," Tammaro said, and has had trouble getting out of bed in the morning even though she is a lifelong early riser.
Tammaro, one of the few family members allowed to visit Schiavo, said he "laid hands" on her during a moment of prayer with several other family members this week. "I felt her move to my touch," he said. Schiavo, he said, often appears to laugh when someone tells a joke.
The Schindlers had been hoping that Jeb Bush could save their daughter by presenting an affidavit from William P. Cheshire, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., who says Schiavo may be in a "minimally conscious," rather than "vegetative," state, as court-appointed doctors believe.
Cheshire has been a vocal critic of assisted suicide. An article attributed to him on the Web site www.restorationfoundation.org advocated Jews converting to Christianity. "Should not we who are in Christ lift the yoke of persecution from the shoulders of the Jewish people and refresh them with the truth of the Lord of the Sabbath?" the article says.
Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer ruled that Bush's attempt to use Cheshire's report as a basis for taking custody of Schiavo appeared to be a violation of the constitutional separation the legislative, judicial and executive branches. "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.
Bush may have missed an opportunity to take custody of Schiavo on Thursday morning. For about three hours, Felos said, there was no judicial impediment stopping the state from seizing Schiavo and resuming her tube-feeding because an arcane rule granted an automatic stay of court orders after an appeal was filed at 8:15 a.m. Realizing that the appeal opened a window of opportunity, Felos said, he asked Greer to issue another order nullifying the stay. Once the state figured out what was happening, Felos said, its lawyers apparently tried to stall a Thursday-morning hearing before Greer to give officers time to drive to the hospice. But Greer issued the order shortly after 11 a.m., preventing any possible state action. Another attempt to seize Schiavo may have been set in motion the day before, Felos said.
Law enforcement officers and an attorney for Morton Plant Hospital, where Schiavo's tube was to be reinserted, told Felos and his legal team that the governor's office had notified them that agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were preparing to take custody of Schiavo and drive her to the hospital. Those phone calls prompted Felos to ask Greer to issue the order that was handed down late Wednesday afternoon blocking the state from taking custody and authorizing "each and every" sheriff's deputy in the state to stop any attempt to remove Schiavo from the hospice.
Staff writers Jennifer Frey and Dana Milbank in Washington contributed to this report.