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Decision increases deadline urgency

A federal judge won't block the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Her parents will fight as Wednesday draws near.

WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published October 11, 2003

TAMPA - A federal judge refused Friday to block the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, leaving the parents of the brain-damaged woman with dwindling legal options less than a week before the tube is scheduled to come out.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Lazzara expressed both sympathy and frustration for the plight of Mrs. Schiavo's parents before concluding that he has no jurisdiction to grant an injunction blocking withdrawal of the tube next Wednesday.

He dismissed a federal suit they had filed.

"To say I'm not tempted to follow the course (Mrs. Schiavo's parents) want me to follow ... would be an understatement," Lazzara said. "Under the law, I must resist that temptation."

With little time left to mount legal challenges, the ruling was a setback to Bob and Mary Schindler, who have been fighting with their son-in-law over the fate of their daughter. Michael Schiavo has pursued the removal of the feeding tube because he says his wife would not want to be kept alive by artificial means.

The Schindlers declined to talk with reporters after the hearing, but their attorney, Pat Anderson, said Lazzara's decision was a "disappointment." But she promised further legal challenges early next week.

"There's no question Terri is in jeopardy," Anderson said. "But it's not over yet."

Anderson already has two appeals pending before the 2nd District Court of Appeal that challenge previous rulings by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer, who has ruled Mrs. Schiavo's condition is irreversible.

One of those appeals, filed Friday, sought the removal of Greer from the case.

After Lazzara's ruling, Michael Schiavo smiled and hugged one of his attorneys, Deborah Bushnell, as members of the Schindler family left court through a back door. Michael Schiavo declined to talk with reporters.

Another of Mr. Schiavo's attorneys, George Felos, told reporters, "I think this is a big step, a very big step."

The Schindlers had filed the federal lawsuit against Michael Schiavo last month alleging a conspiracy between him and Greer to end Mrs. Schiavo's life.

The Schindlers contend their daughter can survive the removal of the feeding tube if she undergoes therapy that they argue would allow her to regain the ability to take in food and water orally.

Felos said that's impossible, and Greer had earlier ruled against allowing such therapy.

"An injunction that says don't remove the tube until she can eat on her own is like saying don't remove the tube until she can walk around the block," Felos said. "It's never going to happen."

Mrs. Schiavo, 39, has been in a persistent vegetative state for 13 years after her heart stopped from what her doctors believe was a potassium imbalance.

Friday's hearing was viewed with great optimism by some of the Schindlers' supporters, especially after Gov. Jeb Bush filed a friend of the court brief opposing the removal of the feeding tube.

Lazzara aggressively quizzed lawyers during the three-hour hearing, repeatedly questioning the merits of the lawsuit.

The judge appeared especially annoyed when one of the Schindlers' attorneys, Christopher Ferrara, a New Jersey attorney for the American Catholic Lawyers Association, dropped several references to the governor's support.

"Let me put you straight right now," Lazzara said after one reference to Bush. "Whoever is on your side does not govern how I'm going to rule in this case."

Ferrara argued that Mrs. Schiavo's constitutional rights were violated when the state judge refused to allow therapy. He also said her due process rights were violated.

Lazzara said the Schindlers were trying to get him to relitigate the entire case. "That's what this suit is about here - delay," Lazzara said.

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