PINELLAS PARK, Fla., March 24 -- 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 Thursday: 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. The couple watched Thursday 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.
Rebekah Richardson, 17, left, and Becky Hill, 17, of the Cause USA, a prayer organization, participate in a silent protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building.
(Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
The legal setbacks angered many of the protesters here and 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.
"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."
Even as Felos was declaring a conclusion to the case, 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 in U.S. District Court in Tampa, appearing before the James D. Whittemore, the same judge who ruled against them earlier in the week. 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. The legal frenetic maneuvers unspooled while supporters of keeping Schiavo alive decried the U.S. Supreme Court's decision early Thursday not to take the case.
"The president is saddened by the latest ruling," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday morning.
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 a 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.
Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue and currently 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.