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Court Lets Right-to-Die Ruling Stand

Parents at Odds With Husband Over Removing Fla. Woman's Feeding Tube

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A07

MIAMI, Jan. 24 -- The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear Gov. Jeb Bush's appeal in the case of a brain-damaged woman, ending his attempt to keep her alive by overriding Florida court orders and leaving her parents with a dwindling number of legal options.

The high court decision, issued without comment, is the latest installment in a torturous legal battle that has lasted nearly seven years. The case pits Terri Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, who say Schiavo is alert and should be kept alive, against her husband, Michael Schiavo, who says she is in a vegetative state and wants to end the tube-feeding that sustains her. Neither side expects the decision to bring an end to the legal saga, which now shifts back to Florida where a blizzard of court filings by the Schindlers has prolonged one of the most prominent right-to-die cases in U.S. history.

Terri Schiavo, who has been on a feeding tube since going into cardiac arrest 14 years ago, is shown with her mother, Mary Schindler, in 2001. (Reuters)

"We're on a merry-go-round," said George Felos, an attorney for Michael Schiavo.

Bush's attorney, Ken Connor, called the high court decision "a very sobering and troubling result for handicapped Floridians" that might have far-reaching implications for the state's large population of elderly nursing home patients.

Bush (R) stepped into the case in dramatic fashion in October 2003 when he persuaded the Florida legislature to pass a law that gave him the authority to order doctors to resume tube-feeding Schiavo six days after the feeding had been stopped because of a victory by Michael Schiavo in state court. The presence of state troopers when Schiavo was transferred to a medical facility to be tube-fed after Bush's order prompted Felos to say Monday that "at that moment, guns trumped the rule of law."

Bush was applauded for pushing "Terri's Law" by right-to-life activists, who have made Terri Schiavo's case a national cause celebre, but the governor's effort to override state court decisions was forcefully condemned by many bioethicists and constitutional scholars. In September, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Bush and said in a strongly worded opinion that he "violated a cornerstone of American democracy" and undercut the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative, judicial and executive branches.

Schiavo has been on a feeding tube since going into cardiac arrest 14 years ago. She did not leave written instructions, but her husband has said that she would not have wanted to be kept alive in her current condition. Schiavo's parents and Bush's legal team have accused Michael Schiavo of ulterior motives. Connor, Bush's attorney, said Monday that Michael Schiavo has "personal, financial, legal and religious" conflicts of interest.

Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, called the assertions "disgusting" and said that Terri Schiavo's debts outweigh her assets and that he is unaware of any life insurance.

The video of Terri Schiavo blinking, now exceedingly familiar after years of court developments, again flashed across television screens in Florida and across the nation after the decision Monday. It has become her parents' most potent public relations weapon.

The Schindlers, whose court appeals include references to a statement by Pope John Paul II asserting that withholding food from a person in a vegetative state is a "sin," were showing no signs of giving up. On the Terri's Fight foundation Web site Monday, a message read: "Terri is [a] purposefully interactive, alert, curious, lovely young woman who lives with a very serious disability."

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