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Gov. Bush's order puts Schiavo back on fluids

A crowd cheers as Terri Schiavo is moved to a hospital to have her feeding tube reinserted. A judge refuses to overturn Bush's order.

WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, LUCY MORGAN, JAMIE JONES and CRAIG PITTMAN
Published October 22, 2003

CLEARWATER - After a day of unprecedented political maneuvering, doctors late Tuesday began giving fluids to Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose case has become a national cause for the right-to-life movement.

Appearing gaunt, Mrs. Schiavo was wheeled into Morton Plant Hospital about 7 p.m., strapped to a stretcher and covered to her neck with a sheet. Two police officers followed her to a room where nurses rushed in equipment. Doctors were expected to eventually reinsert the feeding tube that has kept Mrs. Schiavo alive for over 13 years.

As a medical team tended to Mrs. Schiavo, another drama unfolded in a courtroom several blocks away. A Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge refused a late request to block Gov. Jeb Bush's order to reinsert the feeding tube.

Bush issued the order hours earlier after the Legislature rushed passage of a bill designed to save her life. The legislation, known as "Terri's Bill," reversed the outcome of five years of bitter litigation.

"We are just ecstatic," said Mrs. Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler, who says his daughter is not beyond hope and responds to sights and sounds. "It's restored my belief in God."

Critics, however, say Bush's order is unconstitutional and won't survive appeal. At a hearing late Tuesday, attorneys for Mrs. Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, asked a judge to grant an injunction blocking Bush.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Douglas Baird refused, asking lawyers to submit written arguments within two weeks.

Now the stage is set for a new legal fight in a case that already has wound through numerous courts and five years of legal debate.

Attorney George Felos, who represents Michael Schiavo, said he "is absolutely stunned at the course of events and deeply troubled, angry and saddened that his wife's wishes have become a political pingpong."

* * *

Mrs. Schiavo's trip to the hospital ended a tense day at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, her home for the past three years.

Bob Schindler spoke by phone with the governor about 5 p.m. After listening intently, Schindler told Bush, "I thank you so much."

At 5:36 p.m., Pat Anderson, an attorney for the Schindlers, pushed through the crowd and approached the five Pinellas Park police officers blocking the entrance to the hospice. She handed them a copy of the governor's order.

The crowd cheered. One man held a rosary above his head, and the crowd began to sing Amazing Grace, and then a version of Kum Ba Ya.

An hour later, an ambulance arrived at the hospice amid cheers by 100 protesters outside. Pinellas Park police struggled to hold the crowd back.

The ambulance, escorted by police cruisers, soon drove the 39-year-old woman to Morton Plant Hospital.

Doctors said Mrs. Schiavo would have died within a week without intervention.

* * *

Earlier Tuesday, lawmakers, called to Tallahassee for a special session on economic development, worked with unusual haste to find a solution to save Mrs. Schiavo's life.

Bush signed the legislation into law an hour after the final version of the bill was passed by the House, 73-24. Minutes earlier, the Senate voted 23-15 to give the governor the power to order the reinsertion of the feeding tube.

"I hope, I really do hope we've done the right thing," said Senate President Jim King. "I keep thinking, "What if Terri Schiavo really didn't want this at all?' May God have mercy on us all."

The legislation is narrowly designed to suit Mrs. Schiavo's case. It gives the governor 15 days to order the tube reinserted, limiting his intervention to cases in which the patient left no living will, is in a persistent vegetative state and has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed. In addition, a family member must have challenged the removal.

Mrs. Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state, court-appointed doctors say, since Feb. 25, 1990, when she collapsed after cardiac arrest from a suspected potassium imbalance.

"I believe we're here playing God," said Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami. "Why are we tampering with the judicial branch of government? Who will pick up the burden of the cost we've placed on people when their insurance has been depleted?"

Several members complained of passing a bill when lawmakers have taken no testimony or discussed the policy ramifications.

"The courts have found the person to be in a consistent vegetative state," noted Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami. "We've been asked to try a case without knowing the facts. The courts have listened to sworn testimony and they have determined - court after court - one way. This bill is unconstitutional."

"How dare the Legislature and the governor substitute their judgment for the family, the next of kin?" asked Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale. "We're setting a precedent if the Legislature gets involved."

Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, said lawmakers needed to act because no one knows what Terri Schiavo really wanted.

"We are not mind readers," Sebesta said. "This is not criticism of the courts; this is maybe a hole in the court system which this bill will fix."

Felos told reporters that the governor and lawmakers were meddling in a place they did not belong: the courts. He said their action was an unconstitutional power grab.

"The citizens of Florida should be alarmed by what is happening," Felos said. "What is happening here is a gross and illegal intrusion into the private liberty of citizens. ... This is not the former Soviet Bloc where you don't have the liberty to control your own body."

Courts around the nation have heard numerous cases involving a patient's right to reject care, dating to the Karen Quinlan case in the 1970s. Legal experts can recall no other instance of a state legislature intervening in a case already resolved by the courts.

Deborah Bushnell, a guardianship lawyer working with Michael Schiavo, expressed frustration at the unprecedented action by lawmakers.

"So much of this is out of our control," she said. "What a freight train we're on. And I feel like we've just hit a brick wall."

* * *

The focus now is Mrs. Schiavo, who went six days without food or water.

Felos said her body is beginning to show signs of distress. He said she may die anyway, the governor's order doing nothing more than prolonging her death.

"Her heart could stop at any moment," Felos said. "It could stop tomorrow. It could stop in two, three or four days."

Dr. Ronald Schonwetter, director of geriatric medicine at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, said going six days without food and water could affect Mrs. Schiavo.

The most likely impact would be damage to her kidneys, and it's possible she might have to go on dialysis, he said. But he said she also might return to her previous condition with no lasting impact from the tube's removal.

Felos said doctors did not know if any of Mrs. Schiavo's organs are damaged.

If the tube is reinserted, he maintained, "She will suffer a prolonged death from kidney failure or organ degeneration."

- Times staff writers Lisa Greene and Chris Tisch contributed to this report, which contains information from the Associated Press.

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