The feeding tube keeping brain-damaged Terri Schiavo alive will be removed on Oct. 15 unless her parents can find a court to postpone the procedure.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer ordered Wednesday that the tube be removed at 2 p.m., the fourth time since 2001 a date has been scheduled.
Without the tube, doctors say Mrs. Schiavo, 39, will die within one to two weeks from a chemical imbalance. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, say she will starve.
The Schindlers' attorneys were already preparing their latest appeal in a case that has wound its way through at least four courts during nearly six years of litigation.
After each of the previous dates was set, appeals successfully delayed proceedings, which makes it uncertain whether the latest order will be carried out.
"This case has taken so many legal twists and turns, it's hard to say," said attorney George Felos, who represents Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo. "But we expect in the next month the same succession of frivolous and malicious filings by the Schindlers in any court they can find."
The Schindlers and Michael Schiavo, who works as a nurse in Clearwater, could not be reached for comment.
"I feel like we've never gotten a fair shake from Judge Greer," said Bobby Schindler Jr., Terri's brother. "Michael has been trying to kill my sister since 1993. We're talking about starving a disabled human being to death."
Pat Anderson, a lawyer representing the Schindlers, said in a statement, "It is clear that Florida is not the state in which to get sick. This case demonstrates that we all need to be very, very careful in choosing a spouse."
The Schindlers have been locked in a bitter and expensive legal battle over Mrs. Schiavo's fate with Michael Schiavo, who contends that his wife would not want to be kept alive.
Mrs. Schiavo's heart stopped in 1990 because of what her doctors believe was a potassium imbalance, depriving her brain of oxygen and leaving her in a persistent vegetative state from which, her husband says, she cannot recover.
Her parents, however, say Mrs. Schiavo reacts to them. They say she laughs and cries and is aware of her surroundings. They say rehabilitation might help her.
In the Schindlers' latest petition, they asked Greer to let their daughter undergo speech therapy, saying Mrs. Schiavo already tries to speak. As a side effect of the therapy, Mrs. Schiavo might be taught to eat and take liquids without a feeding tube, which means its removal won't be a death sentence, the Schindlers argue.
"It is Mr. and Mrs. Schindler's firm belief that Terri could have been weaned off her feeding tube years ago," Anderson said, "and would be speaking today if Michael Schiavo had only cared enough about her to see to it that she received the proper therapy."
Greer, however, has consistently ruled against the Schindlers, saying evidence shows that Mrs. Schiavo cannot recover. On Wednesday, he once again rejected the petition for speech therapy.
"The petition is an attempt by Mr. and Mrs. Schindler to relitigate the entire case," Greer ruled.
In a separate ruling, Greer said he agreed with an earlier 2nd District Court of Appeal opinion that said, "Despite the irrefutable evidence that (Mrs. Schiavo's) cerebral cortex has sustained the most-severe of irreparable injuries, we understand why a parent who had raised and nurtured a child from conception would hold out hope ... "
That appeals court decision also said, "When families cannot agree, the law has opened the doors of the circuit courts to permit trial judges to serve as surrogates or proxies to make decisions about life-prolonging procedures."
The Schindlers accuse Michael Schiavo of wanting his wife to die so he can remarry and inherit part of the $700,000 Mrs. Schiavo received from a medical malpractice verdict related to her condition.
But Felos said just $50,000 to $60,000 remains. Once Mrs. Schiavo dies, debts from medical care will prevent her husband from inheriting anything, the lawyer said.
"The fact is, Michael will not receive a penny," said Felos, who said he has been paid just over $300,000 in legal fees from the malpractice money but nothing since July 2002.
Anderson, who did not return calls for comment, is paid by some right-to-life groups, Felos said.
Mrs. Schiavo resides at a Pinellas Park hospice facility, where she is kept alive by feedings of a vitamin-enriched beverage and water at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The case has passed through every appellate court available to litigants, from the Circuit Court to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear an appeal by the Schindlers in February 2000.
Greer heard medical evidence that Mrs. Schiavo cannot recover at the original trial, and then at a hearing in 2001 ordered by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which wasn't convinced Greer had heard enough medical testimony.
Greer held the hearing, then ruled that he still believed Mrs. Schiavo was beyond medical science's ability to help.
Felos, unconvinced he has seen the last delay in the case, said, "Can the Schindlers find a judge who can disregard six years of litigation? I hope not. But you never know."
The court battle
FEB. 25, 1990: Terri Schiavo has a heart attack, temporarily cutting off oxygen to her brain.
FEB. 14, 1993: Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, and her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, have a falling out.
JULY 29, 1993: The Schindlers try to have Michael Schiavo removed as guardian; the case is later dismissed.
MAY 1998: Michael Schiavo files a petition to remove his wife's feeding tube.
JAN. 24, 2000: The trial begins.
FEB. 11, 2000: Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer rules that the feeding tube can be removed.
JAN. 24, 2001: The 2nd District Court of Appeal upholds the judge's decision to discontinue life support.
MARCH 29, 2001: Greer rules that Michael Schiavo can remove the feeding tube at 1 p.m. April 20.
APRIL 18, 2001: The Florida Supreme Court declines to intervene.
APRIL 20, 2001: A federal judge grants the Schindlers until April 23 to exhaust their appeals.
APRIL 23, 2001: The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene.
APRIL 26, 2001: Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada orders doctors to resume feeding Mrs. Schiavo while her parents pursue a lawsuit against Michael Schiavo. The suit, later dismissed, accuses him of committing perjury by saying that his wife did not want to be kept on life support.
APRIL 30, 2001: Lawyers for Michael Schiavo file an emergency motion with the appeals court, asking the court to order another end to feeding Mrs. Schiavo.
MAY 2, 2001: The 2nd District Court of Appeal defers a ruling, allowing Mrs. Schiavo's feeding to resume.
JUNE 25, 2001: The 2nd District Court of Appeal hears arguments.
JULY 11, 2001: The appeals court rules that Mrs. Schiavo cannot be taken off life support until after July 23.
JULY 18, 2001: The Schindlers ask Greer to let their doctors evaluate her before deciding whether her feeding tube should be withdrawn.
AUG. 7, 2001: Attorneys receive Greer's order that the feeding tube be removed Aug. 28.
AUG. 8, 2001: The Schindlers again ask Greer to allow doctors to evaluate their daughter.
AUG. 10, 2001: Greer denies the Schindlers' request and their request to have Michael Schiavo removed as guardian.
SEPT. 26, 2001: In arguments before the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the Schindlers' attorneys cite testimony from seven doctors who say Mrs. Schiavo's idle cells might "wake up" with the right treatment. Michael Schiavo calls the claims ridiculous.
OCT. 3, 2001: The appeals court delays the removal of the feeding tube indefinitely.
OCT. 17, 2001: The appeals court rules that five doctors can examine Mrs. Schiavo to determine whether she can recover: two from each side and one picked by the court.
FEB. 13, 2002: Attempts at mediation fail. Michael Schiavo seeks again to remove his wife's feeding tube.
OCT. 12, 2002: A weeklong hearing begins. Three of the five doctors testify that Mrs. Schiavo cannot recover. Two picked by the Schindlers say she can be revived.
NOV. 12, 2002: The Schindlers' attorney says medical records suggest that Mrs. Schiavo's vegetative state may have been caused by a beating and seeks time to get more evidence.
NOV. 22, 2002: Greer rules that no current medicine can revive Mrs. Schiavo and orders the feeding tube removed Jan. 3.
DEC. 13, 2002: Greer delays the feeding tube removal to give the Schindlers one last chance to appeal.
JUNE 6, 2003: The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejects the new appeals and orders Greer to set a date for the removal of the feeding tube.
SEPT. 17, 2003: Greer orders the removal of Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15.