PHILADELPHIA -- A federal appeals court yesterday rejected a last-ditch effort to stop a New Jersey man from ordering removal of the feeding tube keeping his comatose wife alive.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously refused to grant a stay sought by the nursing home where Nancy Ellen Jobes, 32, has been a patient for seven years.

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court and a federal District Court judge had refused Thursday to intervene by staying a New Jersey court order giving John Jobes the right to order artificial life support withdrawn from his wife and allow her to starve to death.

The circuit judges' refusal to act leaves Jobes of Boonton, N.J., free after a two-year court battle to have the feeding tube disconnected. Nursing home officials, who could have asked the full 3rd Circuit Court to overrule the panel, said they will no longer challenge his right to let his wife die.

Jobes' lawyer said Jobes would consult with doctors to determine how the procedure would be carried out. A lawyer for the Lincoln Park Nursing Home in Morris County, N.J., had asked for a stay on the grounds that constitutional issues were not considered when the case was in the New Jersey state courts.