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Schiavo's parents appeal to supreme court
Updated: 2005-03-24 15:39

Their legal options nearly exhausted, Terri Schiavo's parents made a desperate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, asking justices to order resumption of nourishment for their severely brain-damaged daughter.

The late-night appeal followed rapid-fire developments in the case, with a federal appeals court refusing to order the reinsertion of Schiavo's feeding tube and the Florida Legislature deciding not to intervene in the epic struggle. Refusing to give up, Gov. Jeb Bush sought court permission to take custody of Schiavo, who was on her fifth day without food or water.

Bob Schindler and Mary Schindler give an interview to a television station while surrounded by protestors on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 in Pinellas Park, Fla. The Schindler's are fighting a public fight to try and save their daughter Terri Shiavo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Bob Schindler and Mary Schindler give an interview to a television station while surrounded by protestors on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 in Pinellas Park, Fla. The Schindler's are fighting a public fight to try and save their daughter Terri Shiavo. [AP]
The flurry of activity came as US President Bush suggested that Congress and the White House had done all they could to keep the woman alive. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially and has fought for years with her parents over whether she should be allowed to die.

Schiavo's feeding tube was removed last Friday and doctors have said she likely would die within a week or two at her hospice.

Earlier in the day, a lawyer for Michael Schiavo said he was pleased by what happened in the appeals court. But he was bothered that the governor was attempting to intervene again.

"They have no more power than you or I or a person walking down the street to say we have the right to take Terri Schiavo," attorney George Felos said.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition speaks to the media at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida on March 22, 2005. Brain damaged Terri Shiavo resides at the hospice. REUTERS/ Rick Fowler
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition speaks to the media at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida on March 22, 2005. Brain damaged Terri Shiavo resides at the hospice.[Reuters]
Felos did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment after the filing.

In the emergency Supreme Court filing, Bob and Mary Schindler say their 41-year-old daughter faces an unjust and imminent death based on a decision by her husband to remove a feeding tube without strong proof of her consent. They allege constitutional violations of due process and religious freedom.

The filing also argues Congress intended for Schiavo's tube to be reinserted, at least temporarily, when it passed an extraordinary bill last weekend that gave federal courts authority to fully review her case.

The filing is seen as a long shot. The Supreme Court has declined other opportunities to get involved in the Schiavo case and legal experts say there is little reason to believe justices will intervene this time.

The Schindlers' request goes first to Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who has staked a moderate position on social issues. He has the option to act on the petition alone or refer it to the entire court, which he did on the last emergency request involving Schiavo.

There was no immediate word when the Supreme Court might act on the petition. On a previous emergency request to the court last Friday involving Schiavo, justices voted to deny relief within four hours of the filing.

The Schindlers' attorney, David Gibbs III, declined immediate comment on the brief to The Associated Press.

Supporters of Schiavo's parents grew increasingly dismayed Wednesday, and 13 protesters were arrested outside her hospice for trying to bring her water.

"When I close my eyes at night, all I can see is Terri's face in front of me, dying, starving to death," Mary Schindler said outside the Pinellas Park hospice. "Please, someone out there, stop this cruelty. Stop the insanity. Please let my daughter live."

Schiavo's tube was pulled Friday afternoon with a Florida judge's approval. By late Tuesday, her eyes were sunken and her skin, lips and tongue were parched, said Barbara Weller, an attorney for the Schindlers.

Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Her parents argue that she could get better and that she would never have wanted to be cut off from food and water. Schiavo's husband has argued that she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially, and a state judge has repeatedly ruled in his favor.

The battle played out on several fronts Wednesday.

A three-judge panel from the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the family early Wednesday, and hours later the full court refused to reconsider; the vote breakdown was not provided.

Gov. Jeb Bush and the state's social services agency filed a petition in state court to take custody of Schiavo and, presumably, reconnect her feeding tube. It cites new allegations of neglect and challenges Schiavo's diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state. The request is based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state who observed Schiavo at her bedside but did not conduct an examination of her.

The neurologist, William Cheshire of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organizations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube's removal.

Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota, a neurologist who was among those who made a previous diagnosis of Schiavo, said "there isn't a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won't find her in a vegetative state."

The custody request by Bush, which faced long odds, was made before Judge George Greer, the same judge who has presided over the case for several years and ordered the feeding tube removed last month. Greer planned to decide by noon Thursday on whether the case would go forward. He issued an emergency order Wednesday to keep the Department of Children & Families from reconnecting the tube.

The Florida Legislature also jumped back into the fray, but senators rejected a bill that would have prohibited patients like Schiavo from being denied food and water if they did not express their wishes in writing. The measure was rejected 21-18.

"We're heartbroken," Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj said. Gibbs also said he was disappointed lawmakers didn't try "to help Terri and help future generations of Floridians."

The Legislature stepped in before, in 2003, and Schiavo's feeding tube was reinserted. But "Terri's Law" was later struck down by the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional attempt to interfere in the courts.

Meanwhile, President Bush suggested that he and Congress had done their best to help the parents prolong Schiavo's life, and the White House said it had no further legal options.

"I believe that in a case such as this, the legislative branch, the executive branch, ought to err on the side of life, which we have," the president said. "Now we'll watch the courts make their decisions."

Federal courts were given jurisdiction to review Schiavo's case after Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation over the weekend aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life. But federal courts at two levels rebuffed the family.

"There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo," Judges Ed Carnes and Frank M. Hull said in the 2-1 decision by the 11th circuit panel. "We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision."

Dissenting Judge Charles R. Wilson said Schiavo's "imminent" death would end the case before it could be fully considered. "I fail to see any harm in reinserting the feeding tube," he wrote.

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