MIAMI, Feb. 25 -- On the 15th anniversary of the heart attack that severely damaged Terri Schiavo's brain, a Florida judge ruled Friday that he is "no longer comfortable granting stays" and set a March 18 date for her feeding tube to be removed.
The decision by Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer is certain to be appealed, and other delaying moves could be in the offing because Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and several members of the Florida Legislature have said they would do whatever is legally possible to keep Schiavo alive. The state's Department of Families and Children also is trying to delay the tube removal to investigate abuse allegations phoned in to a hotline.
Robert and Mary Schindler, Terri Schiavo's parents, head to news conference in Pinellas Park, Fla., with Brothers Hilary McGee, left, and Paul O'Donnell.
(Chris O'meara -- AP)
Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler -- who are trying to stop her husband, Michael Schiavo, from ordering the tube removed -- had hoped to persuade Greer to issue an emergency stay to resolve a host of legal issues. But the judge wrote that five years after his first order allowing the tubes to be removed "there appears to be no finality in sight." Issuing another stay, he said, would prove that "the process does not work."
"There will always be 'new' issues that can be pled," he wrote.
Schiavo's parents, who have drawn the support of right-to-life groups and advocates for disabled persons, have been in this position before. Their daughter's feeding tube has been removed twice, only to be reinserted because of court rulings and, most recently, because Bush won passage of a law last year that allowed him to order Schiavo's feeding resumed six days after the tube was removed. The law was overturned by Florida's Supreme Court, but Bush said this week that he is exploring other options. His office has received more than 34,000 e-mails and hundreds of calls this week about the case.
"There are many things that we think ought to be heard in that court," Robert Schindler told reporters Friday outside Pinellas County Circuit Court in Clearwater. "They're really limiting the time."
Michael Schiavo, whose home was picketed by demonstrators this week, said in a statement released by his attorneys that "I am very pleased that the Court has recognized there must be a finality to this process. I am hopeful and confident that the appellate court will also agree that Terri's wishes not to be kept alive artificially must now be enforced."
The Schindlers' attorneys will now turn to the appeals court to press their argument that Michael Schiavo should be removed as guardian. They also are trying to delay the tube removal because of new medical studies that they say suggest Schiavo might be "minimally conscious," rather than in a vegetative state. Schiavo's religion plays into the requests for a stay because her parents say she was a practicing Catholic and would want her doctors to consider a general statement last year by Pope John Paul II that euthanasia is a sin.
The Vatican engaged in the case even more directly on Friday during remarks on a Vatican Radio broadcast by Cardinal Renato Martino, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
"If Mr. Schiavo legally succeeded in provoking the death of his wife," Martino said, "this would not only be tragic in itself, but it would be a serious step toward legally approving euthanasia in the United States."