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Schiavo's family ends legal fight

An attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents says they are out of options and must face the removal of her feeding tube today. "It's in other hands now."

WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published October 15, 2003

PINELLAS PARK - The legal appeals are exhausted. The governor cannot intervene. Parents' pleas to their son-in-law remain unanswered.

Barring unexpected court intervention, brain-damaged Terri Schiavo will receive her last meal today before doctors at 2 p.m. remove the feeding tube that has kept the 39-year-old alive for more than 13 years.

Then it's an agonizing wait by her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, for the death that will inevitably follow in a week or two.

After losing another round of appeals on Tuesday, the Schindlers' attorney said that further appeal is fruitless and that the parents can do nothing to save their oldest child.

"There's nothing left to do legally," said attorney Pat Anderson. "The judicial system will offer no relief, and these parents are nearly out of their mind with grief. It's in other hands now."

Earlier, the Schindlers held out hope that they might still save their daughter.

"I'm an eternal optimist," Bob Schindler said outside the Pinellas Park hospice where their daughter resides. "The game isn't over. There is still time on the clock."

Within hours, the Schindlers lost what appeared to be their last effort to block the tube removal. The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected two motions by their attorneys asking the court to intervene.

Attorney George Felos, who represents Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, said he finds it difficult to believe the Schindlers won't still appeal, whatever their attorney says.

"I would never predict anything about this case," Felos said. "All I can say is that I take it one day at a time."

The case has taken many legal twists and turns since Mrs. Schiavo collapsed at her St. Petersburg home on Feb. 25, 1990, from a lack of potassium. Her heart stopped and she was deprived of oxygen for five minutes.

At 26, she did not have a living will, a document that instructs doctors and families about what, if any, life support a patient will want.

In 1998, Michael Schiavo petitioned the courts to have her feeding tube removed, saying she was in an irreversible persistent vegetative state. Schiavo said his wife told him several times during their marriage she would not want to be kept alive on life support.

Since then, he and the Schindlers have waged war in the courts, with the Schindlers saying their daughter communicates and might partially recover with rehabilitation.

After a trial in 2000, a Pinellas-Pasco judge agreed with Michael Schiavo and ordered the feeding tube removed.

But each time Michael Schiavo appeared close to carrying out what he says are his wife's wishes, the Schindlers' attorneys found a way out.

Two years ago, Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube was actually removed for three days.

But the Schindlers won a court order to resume feeding her after they filed a lawsuit saying Michael Schiavo perjured himself by saying his wife did not want to be kept alive on life support. The suit ultimately failed.

Felos said on Tuesday he thought the Schindlers might finally be out of options.

"I'm hopeful that this case is in its final stages," he said.

At Woodside Hospice on Tuesday, a small crowd of protesters held an around-the-clock vigil. Most carried a variety of signs, including, "God numbers your days - not man" or "Terri deserves to live too."

Pinellas Park police kept close watch. A police officer is posted at Mrs. Schiavo's room.

Prominent activist Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, organized a press conference and called on Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene in Mrs. Schiavo's case.

"This has been a kangaroo court from the beginning," Terry said.

Bush's office filed a friend of the court brief earlier this month in a federal suit filed by the Schindlers. The suit says that with therapy their daughter might regain the ability to eat and drink once the tube is removed.

That suit was dismissed on Friday by a judge who said he couldn't intervene in a state court matter.

The governor's office says Bush has no authority to stop the tube's removal. Bush said he hopes the case will spur a dialogue on how to deal with right-to-die issues.

"I feel horrible for her, for her family, for her husband," Bush told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. "As I understand it she will starve to death and that's not an easy thing to accept to be honest with you."

Continuing to seek Bush's intervention on Tuesday, the Schindlers showed the media a 2001 video of their daughter which, they say, shows her responding as her mother speaks. They taped her after sneaking a camera into her room. The Schindlers also said their daughter engaged in therapy via telephone with a Nevada doctor.

The doctor told Terri that she had to help him or she would be killed. Bob Schindler said his daughter sat up and almost fell out of a chair as she tried to move.

"I was blown away by that," Bob Schindler said.

Bob Schindler acknowledged both acts violated court orders barring any videotaping of Terri or any examination by doctors without a judge's permission.

As a result, the Schindlers access to their daughter in her waning days will be restricted, lawyers said.

The Schindlers will be able to visit their daughter only when Michael Schiavo, her husband, or one of his representatives, is present.

"That's for Terri's protection," Felos said. "This poor woman is about to enter the death process. She has the right not to have her death process flashed across the media. She has the right to die peacefully and privately."

The Schindlers said they have been staying at the hospice around the clock. It's now unclear how much time they will have with Mrs. Schiavo.

"It will depend on Michael Schiavo's whim," Anderson said.

Details about the tube removal remain sketchy. Felos could not offer details. It's unknown whether the Schindlers will be present.

Felos said Michael Schiavo is taking time off from his job as a nurse to help prepare for his wife's death.

The tube, attached to Mrs. Schiavo's stomach, provides water and a vitamin-enriched brew twice a day - at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Bob Schindler, looking tired and grim, struggled to control tears as he told reporters he is convinced his daughter communicates.

He said his daughter sometimes has a limited attention span but nonetheless attempts to respond when family talk to her.

Said Schindler: "We're having conversations."

- Times staff writers Alisa Ulferts and Anne Lindberg contributed to this report.

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