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One by one, options sink

EXTENDED EFFORTS: The far-flung search for solutions in Tallahassee and Washington was fast, furious ... and ultimately futile.
A PARENT'S PLEA: Bob Schindler urges lawmakers to forget politics and remember that "my daughter's life is at stake."

By ANITA KUMAR, ALISA ULFERTS and STEVE BOUSQUET
Published March 18, 2005


TERRI SCHIAVO:
DECISION DAY

Main story
Support of life draws protesters to Schiavo
Postcards offend some Schiavo neighbors
Schiavo bill loses GOP backers
What they're saying
As emotions build, time ticks closer
Related story: Hard decisions, out of the spotlight
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Efforts to prevent the death of Terri Schiavo hit roadblock
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
A group of women hold a prayer vigil at Michael Schiavo's Clearwater home.

It was an extraordinary day by any measure: Lawmakers in Washington and Tallahassee wrangling over the fate of a single woman who lies incapacitated in a Pinellas Park hospice.

In Washington, the U.S. Senate stopped debating the federal budget to take up a bill to allow federal courts to intervene in the long-running case of Terri Schiavo, who doctors say has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years.

In Tallahassee, the Florida House and Senate spent hours debating a measure intended to block a court order to remove Schiavo's feeding tube.

Even President Bush got involved. "Those who live at the mercy of others," he said, "deserve our special care."

But the day ended as it began, with no new laws and a court order still in place to remove Schiavo's feeding tube at 1 this afternoon.

Still, as darkness descended on Tallahassee, Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, huddled with Gov. Jeb Bush, and lawmakers worked the corridors of the state Capitol in a last-ditch bid for a political solution.

The Schindlers also appealed to the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, but were rebuffed by both.

Hour by hour, as the clock moved inexorably toward today's deadline, the remarkable saga of Terri Schiavo continued to unfold in surprising ways:

Neighbors of Schiavo's husband, Michael, reported they had received mail accusing him of "trying to murder his wife."

Former Green Beret James "Bo" Gritz - the man who plunged into Laos to find Americans missing in action from the Vietnam War - announced he had arrived in Pinellas County and plans to serve Michael Schiavo and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer with "citizens arrest warrants."

Here are the details of Thursday's developments.

In Washington, a deal unravels

The Schindlers spent Thursday lobbying state legislators, while Schiavo's brother, Bobby, was in Washington lobbying U.S. senators the day after the U.S. House voted to allow the case to move to federal court.

But a last-minute effort, brokered by Florida Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson, to move Schiavo's case to federal court fell apart.

The House passed a broader bill late Wednesday night that would have affected thousands of incapacitated people, but the Senate took up its own version Thursday that would have affected only Schiavo.

Both bills sought the same result: moving the case to federal court, where a judge would hold a new trial to review the facts and determine whether Schiavo's rights were violated.

"I think all of us have in our mind's eye the face of that lovely young woman," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota. "It is very much in my mind, the smile of that woman."

Members in both chambers were clearly not familiar with all details of the case. They mispronounced her name. They proclaimed she was not in a vegetative state, even though experts say she is and a court agreed. They claimed she did not receive certain brain scans when she had. They wrongly claimed no judge had even granted a family member removal of a feeding tube.

Martinez worked with Nelson to craft a compromise. By a voice vote, the bill passed the Senate with only a handful of Democrats objecting. Opposition was led by Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who wanted to protect his state's assisted suicide law. But the House rejected the Senate's bill.

"This is a good-faith bipartisan effort," Nelson said. "I support this bill so that this case can be reviewed and decided in a timely manner."

Ultimately, the House adjourned in an abortive maneuver to force the Senate to accept the House bill.

When the deal fizzled, leaders began blaming one another.

"As Terri Schiavo lays helpless in Florida, one day away from the unthinkable and unforgivable, the Senate Democrats refused to join Republicans to act on her behalf," House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Tom DeLay said in a joint statement.

Supporters of the bill held out hope of a last-ditch effort today.

The Senate will debate the federal budget today, offering one more chance to pass the House version, though that appeared extremely unlikely.

George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo, said he hoped no legislation would pass.

"It's frankly very disconcerting and unsettling in our country and our democracy to see how our federal lawmakers can in essence be held hostage by these special interest groups and jump to their will like spit on a hot griddle," Felos said.

But Bob Schindler urged lawmakers to focus on his daughter. "I would hope that this is not a political issue," he said, "and that people who will be voting on this will be flexible, considering the fact that my daughter's life is at stake."

A Republican revolt in Tallahassee

The Florida House passed, 78-37, a bill designed to block the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, but the Florida Senate balked.

Nine Republican senators, led by the man who wrote the state's death with dignity act, played a crucial role in blocking legislation.

Sen. Jim King wrote the legislation that requires living wills be respected, and said he was not going to allow that law to change.

"We acted in a Herculean way the last time and didn't want to do it again," King said, referring to a 2003 law - later struck down as unconstitutional - that empowered Gov. Bush to order Schiavo's feeding tube be reinstated.

The Senate could take up the bill again this morning, but King doubts it can pass.

"I can't imagine what amendment could be offered that we nine would support," King said.

State Sen. Daniel Webster, the Winter Garden Republican who worked through the night Wednesday on compromise legislation, saw his chances fade dramatically when the Senate killed his amendment 16-21.

Webster agreed with King's assessment on the chances of passage today. "I'm pretty good at math," Webster said. I always have hope, but I am a realist."

Gov. Bush called the Senate's decision a "huge disappointment," but said it wasn't a surprise.

"That's their decision," Bush said. "I just hope it was based on the right information and that there has been a lot of thought given. It's a very emotional subject and a very important one, to deal with these end-of-life issues in a compassionate way."

The House bill, passed earlier in the day, limited the circumstances in which a feeding tube can be withheld. It prohibited a feeding tube being withheld from a person in a vegetative state in most circumstances. Exceptions included people with living wills that gave directives, or people who appointed surrogates to make health care decisions.

The bill also allowed withholding a feeding tube if "clear and convincing evidence" shows that the patient "expressly and unequivocally" directed that the tube be withheld. A provision in the House bill allowed "any interested party who may reasonably be expected to be directly affected by the decision" to challenge such a decision.

Seventy-three Republicans and five Democrats voted yes. Eight Republicans joined 29 Democrats in voting no.

The House spent two hours in intensely personal debate. Several lawmakers spoke of the deaths of their parents or spouses. Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, recalled being in a coma for two months and living on a feeding tube last fall after having serious complications from heart surgery.

But no one in the Senate expected the House bill to pass their chamber, which is why Webster crafted a last-minute amendment. It would have further narrowed the circumstances under which a person's wishes surrounding artificial sustenance would be determined by a court.

But Webster couldn't guarantee his amendment would help Schiavo. That, coupled with worries about the measure's intrusiveness, killed the amendment.

Senate President Tom Lee said he was disappointed with the eight Republican senators.

Almost immediately afterward, senators reported hundreds of calls from people on both sides of the issue.

Aides to Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, have logged calls from 18 states.

Legal maneuvers

The Schindlers' attorney, David Gibbs III, said he would file a habeas corpus petition in Tampa federal court by early today. Gibbs described the action as a "last-ditch" legal maneuver to argue that Schiavo is being held illegally.

"If that doesn't work, then there is nothing else that can be filed in the courts on Friday," Gibbs said.

On Thursday, the Florida Department of Children and Families asked Greer to halt the removal of the feeding tube. The judge refused after a brief hearing.

The agency, which wants to investigate allegations of abuse of Schiavo, immediately appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. It too, said no.

The Schindlers planned to visit their daughter today.

Times staff writers Bill Levesque and Bill Adair contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 18, 2005, 05:22:33]


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