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Schiavo's parents left with few options

After the U.S. Supreme Court begins their day of legal defeats, Terri Schiavo's parents hope for help from Gov. Jeb Bush and a federal judge.

Published March 25, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Their legal options all but exhausted, their daughter's condition deteriorating, their nerves frayed and bodies weary, Terri Schiavo's parents clung to the one thing they've never lacked - faith.

It might be all they have left.

Today marks a week since Schiavo's feeding tube was removed under court order and a flurry of judicial and legislative appeals began.

Late Thursday evening, after a day full of legal defeats, Bob and Mary Schindler headed back into a federal courtroom in Tampa, trying again to convince a judge to order their daughter's feeding tube reinserted. Not even a bomb scare at the courthouse interrupted the hearing.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a one-sentence statement rejecting a desperate 11th-hour appeal to reinstate Schiavo's feeding tube. It marked the fifth time the nation's highest court refused to hear the case.

Barely an hour later, Pinellas County circuit Judge George Greer denied a request from Gov. Jeb Bush to let the state intervene in the case to resume her feeding and hydration. He also rejected a petition to investigate allegations that Michael Schiavo had abused his wife, as well as an affidavit from a Florida doctor who argued that the brain-damaged woman was not in a persistent vegetative state.

Later in the day, the Florida Supreme Court refused to overturn Greer's order that blocked the state from intervening in the case.

As another day slipped away, the Schindlers placed all hope of keeping their 41-year-old daughter alive squarely on the shoulders of Gov. Bush. The family rented a 58-seat bus and invited protesters to travel to Tallahassee late Thursday and begin a vigil at the governor's mansion.

"The family is still hoping Gov. Bush will intervene," said family spokesman Randall Terry. "All roads to save Terri pass through Tallahassee."

It might be a hollow hope.

"(My powers) are not as expansive as people would want them to be," Bush said Thursday. "I've consistently said that I can't go beyond what my powers are, and I'm not going to do it."

At the federal courthouse late Thursday, attorneys for Terri Schiavo's parents again asked a federal judge to order her feeding tube reinserted, the second request made to U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore this week.

Whittemore rejected the first request Tuesday, a decision the Schindlers appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court without success. The Schindlers claimed their daughter's "due process and religious" rights were violated.

"We are right on the precipice of when she will leave this world," the couple's attorney, David Gibbs III, told the judge Thursday night.

Gibbs argued that the court needed to review evidence about whether Schiavo wanted to die rather than live by artificial means and whether she is actually in a persistent vegetative state. He used a different strategy than earlier in the week, when he argued the state court process to determine Schiavo's rights was flawed.

"Theresa Schiavo's intention is to live," Gibbs said. "She swallows, she laughs, she cries."

When Gibbs began to describe the actions of Michael Schiavo as "murder," Whittemore angrily cut him off.

"That's the emotional aspect of this case," the judge said, "and the rhetoric that does not influence this court. We have to follow the rule of law and that's what will be applied."

George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, said Terri Schiavo's rights have already been adequately protected by the courts that determined she is in a persistent vegetative state. He called arguments to the contrary "offensive."

Whittemore ended the hearing just after 9:30 p.m., saying said he would not leave before writing an order, though he did not say precisely when he would issue it.

"I'll be here for as long as necessary," he said.

A suspicious backpack was found outside the garage entrance to the U.S. District Court building in Tampa Thursday night, said Tampa Police Cpl. Johnny Adkins. The bomb squad used a robot to examine the backpack and later blew it up.

Earlier Thursday, as the legal doors of appeal shut one after another, members of Congress and President Bush echoed the governor's tone of resignation.

"I believe strongly in our democracy and that we are a nation of laws," said Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, who sponsored the unprecedented, last-minute bill that Congress passed during emergency sessions last weekend in an effort to keep Schiavo alive.

"As disappointed as I am that Terri Schiavo will not receive a final hearing in federal court as intended by our legislation," the Republican senator said, "I believe that we must accept the finality of the Supreme Court's decision."

President Bush, who earlier in the week said he had done all he could to help Schiavo, learned of the Supreme Court ruling while vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

"The president is saddened by the latest ruling," White House spokesman Taylor Gross said.

The courtroom defeats for the Schindlers meant another victory for Michael Schiavo, who maintains that his wife would not have wanted to survive in such a state. She suffered severe brain damage after a cardiac arrest in 1990 and, according to doctors, has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years.

She left no living will.

Felos said his client was "very grateful" for Thursday's rulings.

"We hope that order will effectively end the litigation efforts in this case," Felos said. "Terri is peaceful, she's resting comfortably. She's dying. She's in her death process."

He said Schiavo is "being attended to by a team of wonderful and compassionate health care workers."

Dr. Ronald Schonwetter, executive vice president and chief medical officer of LifePath Hospice and Palliative Care in Tampa, said a dry mouth is the most common side effect for people who have feeding tubes removed. Such dryness could be eased with a moist washcloth, ice chips, or mouth swabs, Schonwetter and other hospice workers said.

"Probably 99.9 percent of the time, there does not appear to be any discomfort associated with stopping feeding," he said. His assertion differs from that of the Schindlers and their supporters, many of whom claim that Schiavo will die a painful death.

"It's very frustrating. Every minute that goes by is a minute that Terri is being starved and dehydrated to death," said her brother, Bobby Schindler, who compared seeing her to looking at "pictures of prisoners in concentration camps."

Michael Schiavo's brother, Brian Schiavo, said Thursday his brother is emotionally drained.

"He's very upset," Brian Schiavo said. "He really just wants to carry out her wishes. He's being made out to be this monster and it's all because of people misrepresenting and twisting the truth.

"He was crying. He's always there. He kisses her. He fixes her hair. He strokes her face. This man is not a monster."

Brian Schiavo said his brother told him this week, "I didn't want this to go to the president of the United States. This is between Terri and me."

Outside the Pinellas Park hospice where Schiavo lay Thursday, the crowd swelled to several hundred protesters. They took turns took turns beating on an empty, plastic paint can - thump, thump, pause, thump, thump - which was labeled "Terri's Heart."

An airplane overhead towed a banner that read, "Gov. - Rescue Terri Now."

Pinellas Park police Lt. Kevin Riley said police had made no arrests as of 6 p.m. Eight police officers and two Pinellas County sheriff's deputies remained posted outside.

At 3:45 p.m., the Schindler family went inside the hospice. They came out at 4:05 p.m., visibly shaken and immediately swarmed by dozens of reporters.

Someone shouted, "Bob, how is she?"

He didn't answer. The family disappeared into a building across the street, escorted by three Pinellas Park police officers.

Terry, the family spokesman, stepped forward instead.

"If she dies there will be hell to pay,' he said, as protester yelled from behind him, "that's a promise." He continued, "She is on fire while politicians fiddle."

Unlike the politicians who have fought to keep Schiavo alive, protesters on Thursday showed no signs of resignation. Patricia Devlin, 52, from Lubbock, Texas, was blind and wearing a neck brace and weeping on the ground. But she remained hopeful.

"We will never give up hope until the very end," she said.

Thursday's protests spread far from the hospice.

Several dozen people knelt and prayed outside the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater, steps from Greer's chambers.

They came carrying signs that read things like "Half the Nation Cries as Terri Schiavo Dies." Several wore "Save Terri Schiavo" T-shirts. Others gripped rosary beads or yelled "murderer" every time Greer's name was uttered.

In Washington, a handful of the Schindlers' supporters knelt in prayer in front of the Supreme Court building, where "Equal Justice Under Law" is etched in stone.

While supporters of the Schindlers fanned out across Florida and the nation's capitol, supporters of Michael Schiavo appeared confident, though they mainly stayed out of the media spotlight.

Jim Harmon, one of the few Michael Schiavo supporters at the hospice during the past week, said he and others decided to stop protesting in public. The courts have ruled in their favor, he said, and he feared for their safety. "People were screaming at us that we're the angels of death,' Harmon said. "It's a mob mentality, emotions are really high and if they lose this case, we'll be the targets."

Each day, each hour has been marked by tension, emotion and rumors since Schiavo's feeding tube was removed last Friday.

Earlier in the week, rumors circulated that Gov. Bush might try to use state lawmen to forcibly remove Schiavo from the hospice so doctors could reinsert her feeding tube. Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats grew so concerned that he called Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell to see what the state planned to do.

"For a time there was an indication there might be some kind of tug of war," Coats said in a telephone interview Thursday. It never happened, and a spokesman for Bush insists the state was not planning to forcibly remove Schiavo from the hospice unless a court ordered it.

And so, after a week of action - in Congress, in the nation's courts, in the White House, in the Governor's mansion, in the hospice - Thursday seemed to bring the beginning of a quiet but apprehensive waiting period.

Today is Good Friday, the beginning of the Christian observance of Easter, in which Jesus died and rose from the dead the following Sunday, according to the Bible. On Thursday, those on both sides of the Schiavo case invoked his name. One one hand, there was the protester carrying a sign that read "Jesus Loves Terri and Wants Her to Live."

On the other, there was Felos, pleading for the battle to end.

"We believe, as we approach this Easter weekend," he said,"that Mrs. Schiavo should be able to die in peace."

Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Michael Sandler, Lauren Bayne Anderson, Robert Farley, Lisa Greene and Saundra Amrhein contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 25, 2005, 13:09:23]

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