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Judge sets date to remove tube

The announcement comes on the 15th anniversary of Terri Schiavo's collapse from a suspected chemical imbalance.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, GRAHAM BRINK and CARRIE JOHNSON
Published February 26, 2005


  photo
[Times photos: Cherie Diez]
Terri Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler, and her sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, speak after the judge's decision Friday.
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Father Thomas Euteneuer prays Friday in Pinellas Park with other supporters of keeping Terri Schiavo alive.
What did the judge do?
Vatican official enters Schiavo feeding tube fray

PINELLAS PARK - Concerned that there is "no finality in sight" in the case of Terri Schiavo, a judge has ordered her feeding tube removed on March 18.

The decision allows Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, to move forward with what he believes are his wife's wishes not to live by artificial means. But it also gives Schiavo's parents some time to mount a last-ditch legal campaign to keep their daughter alive.

The parents of the severely brain-damaged woman must now rely mainly on appeals courts, where they have been consistently stymied in the last year, to grant them more time beyond three critical weeks.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer said Friday he won't grant additional delays in carrying out what the court has ruled is Terri Schiavo's desire in a case that has drawn international attention.

"Five years have passed since the issuance of the ... order authorizing the removal of Theresa Schiavo's nutrition and hydration and there appears to be no finality in sight to this process," Greer wrote in a three-page ruling.

"The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filing of new motions and petitions since there will always be "new' issues that can be pled."

Greer said the three-week delay provides the parents time to appeal his order and allow last rites and other matters to be addressed in an orderly fashion.

Outside the Pinellas Park hospice where Schiavo, 41, lives, her family and lawyers said they were thankful for the extra time granted on what was the 15th anniversary of Schiavo's collapse from a suspected chemical imbalance.

But they said they are disappointed they don't have more time to reverse a court's judgment that Schiavo would want to die.

Bob Schindler, Schiavo's father, said he and his wife, Mary, have been telling their daughter about the case's progress. He said she wasn't as responsive Friday as she was the day before.

"The waiting is very hard," said Schindler, who with his wife has waged a seven-year battle against their son-in-law over their daughter's fate. "It's hard to explain what it feels like when someone is trying to kill your daughter."

In a statement released by his lawyer's office, Michael Schiavo said he appreciated that Greer had set a definitive date.

"I am very pleased that the court has recognized there must be a finality to this process," the statement said. "I am hopeful and confident that the appellate court will also agree that Terri's wishes not to be kept alive artificially must now be enforced."

Once the feeding tube is removed, Terri Schiavo is expected to die within two weeks.

David Gibbs III, a lawyer for the Schindlers, said he will continue the aggressive fight to extend Schiavo's life. Aside from asking appeals courts for stays beyond March 18, the Schindlers can still argue pending motions before Greer in the three weeks left, he said.

Gibbs' first move will be to talk with the judge's office about securing enough court dates to argue a number of motions before the March 18 deadline. He said his priorities include getting Michael Schiavo removed as his wife's guardian and appealing to higher courts some of the legal issues Greer already rejected.

Gibbs said they should also be allowed more time to conduct additional medical tests.

"It would be Hitler-esque, it would be unbelievable, to starve (someone) to death," Gibbs said.

Also, the Florida Department of Children and Families still is trying to intervene in the case after it filed a motion earlier in the week. They seek time to investigate an abuse report involving Terri Schiavo. The specifics are sealed.

With the legislative session scheduled to begin March 8, some lawmakers think the new date to pull the feeding tube may give the Legislature room to maneuver.

"I'm very hopeful that something can be done," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. "We're planning to do whatever we can."

Baxley's bill would make it illegal to withhold food or water from an incapacitated person who never signed a living will. While House Speaker Allan Bense has said he does not want to make the Schiavo case a top priority during the session, Baxley said he was optimistic the bill would be heard quickly.

But it remains uncertain that Baxley's bill would be retroactive and apply to Schiavo. If it isn't, the judgment to end Schiavo's life cannot be reversed.

Those who have rallied to the Schindlers also promise to keep pressuring lawmakers to intervene. Groups have protested and held vigils outside the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park where Terri Schiavo lives, at her husband's home, in Tallahassee and outside the Clearwater courthouse. Similar events are expected throughout the weekend.

"By no means do we believe this is over," said Gary Cass, executive director of the Center for Reclaiming America, a group based in Fort Lauderdale. "If they do remove the feeding tube, I believe we're going to see an unprecedented outpouring of support for Terri from the prolife community all over America. Prolife organizations will come to Tallahassee to lobby the Legislature and Gov. Bush to make sure they do everything they can."

An order Greer has previously issued barring the feeding tube's removal had been set to expire at 5 p.m. Friday, leading to speculation that Schiavo would not be fed beyond that hour absent an extension by Greer.

Outside the hospice, a few dozen of the parents' supporters waited in the rain for the judge's decision. With soggy hands, they clutched signs that read "Save Terri" and "Killing Terri is Murder." The rain doused a lone candle lit in Schiavo's honor.

When the news came, the supporters breathed a little easier. It was not exactly the news they wanted, but many had worried the judge would order Schiavo's feeding tube removed immediately.

Father Thomas Euteneuer said he was "furious" at the judge's order.

"This is an act of total injustice ... raw judicial activism," Euteneuer said. "There is no law that say we can kill handicapped people."

Times staff writer Lauren Bayne Anderson contributed to this report.

[Last modified February 26, 2005, 01:16:05]


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