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Reticent lawmakers keep distance

As a court order keeping a feeding tube in Terri Schiavo ends, her parents ask for time to investigate abuse claims.

Published February 25, 2005

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Rev. Ed Martin of Ocala displays a sign as a backdrop for a press conference Thursday.
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Supporters of Terri Schiavo including, from left, Jane and Mike Hargadon of Baltimore, Mary LaFrancis of Fairfield, Iowa, Marilynn Chase and Leslie Hanks of Watkins, Colo., sing Amazing Grace Thursday night outside Hospice House Woodside in Pinellas Park.
If her feeding tube is removed, Terri Schiavo is expected to die within two weeks at the Pinellas Park hospice where she lives.

It was 15 years ago today that Terri Schiavo collapsed in her St. Petersburg home, her heart stopping long enough to cause severe brain damage.

Today, the attention of a nation is focused on her fate as a Pinellas-Pasco judge is expected to decide whether Schiavo's feeding tube should be removed immediately or left in place.

A judicial stay that prevented removal of the feeding will expire at 5 p.m. today.Barring a new order from Circuit Judge George Greer, the lawyer for Schiavo's husband says he will have the tube removed.

If that happens, Schiavo is expected to die within two weeks at the Pinellas Park hospice where she lives.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, want more time to pursue additional court fights that might keep their daughter alive.

Schiavo's parents are pinning many of their hopes on action by state lawmakers who, in 2003, passed a law allowing Gov. Jeb Bush to have the tube reinserted after she went six days without food and water.

But now, lawmakers are being far more restrained and appear unlikely to intervene. Unlike 2003, even the most conservative legislators say they will allow the courts to take the lead.

"The court has before it much better solutions than we could come up with so far," said Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, one of the sponsors of "Terri's Law," which allowed the governor to reverse the removal of the feeding tube.

The law was later declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.

Webster said any action the Legislature takes would have to apply to all citizens, not just Schiavo. Also, a new law may not be enforced retroactively, which makes it difficult for the Legislature to enact something to help Schiavo, he said.

During the latest flurry of legal developments, Bush and several lawmakers cited court rulings that reversed "Terri's Law," saying they didn't want to act outside the law.

But while lawmakers remained on the sidelines, the state's Department of Children and Families jumped into the middle of the controversy by filing an 11th-hour motion to investigate reports of abuse and neglect against Schiavo.

Tim Bottcher, DCF's deputy director of communications, said he was prohibited by state law from discussing any allegations of abuse.

The court declined to release DCF's filing, and Greer has not yet set a hearing to consider DCF's request for a stay that would allow it to investigate the allegations.

Bush said he was not aware of the motion before the DCF announced it in court Wednesday.

"They responded to a hotline call. Apparently there had been lots of them related to ... Schiavo's case," said Bush, who said he wants the judge to give DCF time to investigate.

"If there is a legitimate abuse case, that should go through," Bush said. "There should be an appropriate period of time for them to do their investigation. There are allegations about her situation in the facility she's in and there ought to be a way to check that out."

Several lawmakers met with lawyers throughout the day Thursday to search for solutions, but Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, said it was unlikely the Legislature would be convened to act on the case.

"I don't want to call a special session," Bense said. "I think we need to deal with this issue in a very thoughtful and not a knee-jerk manner, and do it properly and correct."

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is behind a House bill that would allow feeding tubes to be removed from only those with living wills, which Schiavo did not have. "We're at a juncture right now where everything is being explored," Baxley said.

Michael Schiavo has said his wife made statements before her collapse saying she would not want to live by artificial means. Her parents dispute that.

After a 2000 trial, Greer agreed with the husband.

Bense said it was unlikely the Legislature would make the case a top priority when the annual session opens March 8.

"We want to be thoughtful," Bense said. "Even my legal friends who are sharp tell me I don't know the answers to all these questions, in terms of what's constitutional and what's not."

Times staff writer Graham Brink contributed to this report.

[Last modified February 25, 2005, 01:02:55]

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