PINELLAS PARK, Fla., March 23 -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush again raised the possibility of the state's intervention in the frantic battle over Terri Schiavo, asserting Wednesday that the state may have authority to take custody of the brain-damaged woman even though the federal courts have refused to resume her tube-feeding.
But a circuit judge in Pinellas County issued an order preventing the Adult Protective Team of the Florida Department of Children and Families from taking Schiavo from her hospice and reinserting her feeding tube. The possibility of an appeal or some other move by the state lent a dramatic note to the rapidly moving legal struggle.
Mary Schindler, center, Terri Schiavo's mother, is escorted out of the Pinellas Park, Fla., hospice where her daughter is a patient. "When I close my eyes at night, all I can see is Terri's face in front of me, dying, starving to death," she said. "Please, someone out there, stop this cruelty."
(John Pendygraft -- St. Petersburg Times Via AP)
Bush's attempt to again enter the case came the same day that Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, were twice rejected by a federal appeals court and lost a battle in the Florida legislature to keep their daughter alive. Undeterred, the Schindlers pushed their case to the next court level, appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, while still hoping that Bush would come up with a way to use the power of Florida's state government to trump the courts.
"I'm doing everything within my power to make sure that Terri is afforded at least the same rights that criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes take for granted," Bush (R) said at a late-afternoon news conference in Tallahassee.
Schiavo's feeding tube has been out since Friday, and doctors say she could die within two weeks, leaving her supporters increasingly desperate for an eleventh-hour intervention to save her. Early Wednesday, demonstrators camped outside her hospice in this town across the bay from Tampa while another group packed into the rotunda of the state Capitol in Tallahassee. Schiavo supporters have posted "Wanted" signs there in hopes of pressuring nine Republican senators to change their minds and support a law that would force doctors to resume the 41-year-old woman's feeding.
But the intense lobbying effort failed Wednesday afternoon when the state Senate voted 21 to 18 against a bill that would have prevented the removal of feeding tubes from vegetative patients, such as Schiavo, who did not leave written instructions about their wishes.
Before the vote, Sen. Dennis L. Jones (R), who represents Pinellas County, said he had felt pressured by Bush in 2003 and "voted wrong" when he supported a bill backed by the governor intended to save Schiavo that was later declared unconstitutional.
"I certainly wouldn't make that mistake again," said Jones, who on Wednesday voted against the Bush-backed bill.
Jones and other lawmakers who have declined to support efforts to keep Schiavo alive have been the subject of angry Internet commentaries, e-mail campaigns and protests. On Tuesday, Jones said, 20 demonstrators sat on the floor of his local office in Seminole -- a town near Schiavo's hospice -- and refused to leave. Sheriff's deputies were summoned to remove them, he said.
The Schiavo case has been profoundly divisive in the Capitol, occupying so much time that some Florida newspaper editorials have demanded that lawmakers turn their attention to other pressing state business. Even in Pinellas County, opinions are split. When the state Senate and House voted last week on bills designed to keep Schiavo alive, half the county's delegation voted yes and half voted no.
Rep. Everett S. Rice (R), the former Pinellas County sheriff, was confronted by a lawmaker who pushed for the Schiavo legislation a few days ago. "We're saying a special prayer for you," Rice said his colleague told him.
Bush has been the public face of Florida government efforts to resume Schiavo's tube-feeding. His brother, President Bush, said Wednesday that "this is an extraordinary and sad case" but that he would wait for the courts to decide it.
Jeb Bush has spoken about the case repeatedly and emotionally. But his storied mastery of legislative arm-twisting failed Wednesday.
Bush based his assertion that Schiavo should be kept alive on what he called "new information" about her condition gleaned by William P. Cheshire, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., whom the state had asked to evaluate her condition. Cheshire has not formally examined Schiavo, but he did observe her at her bedside and review the videotapes of her appearing to react to her family. Bush said Cheshire had determined that Schiavo may be in a "minimally conscious" rather than a "persistent vegetative" state. The distinction is important because recent studies have suggested that patients in minimally conscious states might have some cognitive powers and may have hope of recovery.