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Opinions differ on signs of death

A priest gives communion as Terri's family members, protesters and lawyers continue to disagree.

Published March 28, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - There was nothing left to do but wait.

There were no legal motions to be filed in court, no bills to be passed in Congress. There seemed nothing protesters or family members could say to change what was happening inside the Hospice House Woodside on Easter Sunday.

In her room, Theresa Marie Schiavo was dying.

Schiavo, who has existed somewhere between life and death for the last 15 years in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state, survived another day - her 10th - without nourishment.

Along with millions of Catholics on Easter, Schiavo received communion when a droplet of wine was placed on her tongue, as her brother and sister looked on. Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski rubbed Schiavo's right arm, while her sister, Suzanne, held her left arm.

Inside Schiavo's bedroom, Malanowski pulled a small amount of consecrated wine from a vial into an eyedropper. One drop was enough.

"The blood of Christ," Malanowski said, releasing it onto Schiavo's tongue.

Malanowski decided against giving Schiavo a wafer, which represents Christ's body, because her mouth seemed so parched. He gave her communion viaticum , administered to Catholics who are in danger of death, absolving Schiavo of all sin and giving her a papal blessing.

"Death is imminent now," Malanowski said later. "As a priest, I know."

Sunday, the Schindlers' supporters began to divide between those who continue to fight and those who have given up. Some, like attorney David C. Gibbs III, said there are no options left, except for a miracle.

"And at this point, we would say Terri has passed the point of no return," Gibbs, the parents' lawyer, said on CBS's Face the Nation .

Others insisted Gov. Jeb Bush and his brother the president can still step in to save Schiavo, 41. Right-to-life advocate Randall Terry, a family spokesman, said Bob and Mary Schindler had not authorized Gibbs' statement.

"In the family's opinion, that is absolutely not true," Terry said.

Terry said Schiavo's parents believe that she tried to whisper to her father Sunday morning, after he bumped into her bed frame during a visit. Startled, Schiavo responded to the movement and smiled at her father, Terry said.

"She is hanging on," Terry said. "That is her message, Gov. Bush and the powers that be, that she wants to live."

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, will fly to Washington today to hold a news conference and beg House Speaker Dennis Hastert to act.

The plea comes as polls show that 82 percent of Americans believe Congress should have stayed out of Schiavo's case. A week ago, the president signed a bill intended to prolong her life. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer had ordered the tube removed after her husband presented evidence that Schiavo would not want to live this way.

But this weekend, Bush, who interrupted his vacation to sign the Schiavo bill, did not mention Schiavo in his Easter radio address.

And after attending Easter services in Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush told CNN he would love to intervene in the case, "but I can't."

"I don't have power from the United States Constitution or - for that matter from the Florida Constitution - that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made," the governor said.

None of that satisfied protesters outside the hospice, who appeared to grow angrier as time ran out. Police closed off part of 102nd Avenue in front of the hospice, and school officials decided to send students from the nearby Cross Bayou Elementary School to other schools.

Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, urged calm. "We're not going to solve this problem today by getting arrested," he said. "Just keep it prayerful and peaceful."

But after dawn Sunday, police made their first arrests. As officers prepared to take two men to jail, protesters tried to goad police, calling them "Nazis" and "cowards."

Chet Gallagher, an evangelical pastor from San Jose, Calif., and Rick Barnard, a pastor from Morris, Ill., walked to the hospice's driveway and announced they had an Easter offering for Schiavo.

"We are bringing her the body and blood of Jesus," Gallagher said.

Holding a bit of cracker in one hand and the Bible in another, Barnard, 60, approached two officers. He knelt to the ground and raised the cracker. "It's Easter Sunday. It's Easter Sunday," he said.

Police led him away in handcuffs.

Then it was Gallagher's turn. Two other protesters were arrested, making a total of 37 arrested by late Sunday.

A half-dozen members of Not Dead Yet, a group of people with disabilities, got out of their wheelchairs and lay in front of one of the hospice's entrances.

"This is about humanity," said Zen Garcia, 34, of Atlanta. "For the people to think that we're better off dead - just because we're disabled - that's just not true."

At Michael Schiavo's house in Clearwater, about 30 protesters laid roses in his yard while Mahoney prayed. Then, the sprinklers went off. As they drenched her white blouse, Denise Holland, 59, of Washington, set down a pink rose.

"Terri would love that much water," she said.

John Centonze, the brother of Schiavo's girlfriend, emerged from the house and picked up some of the flowers. Centonze said Michael Schiavo is "very upset."

The family, though, is holding on, he said. Schiavo's girlfriend, Jodi Centonze, left town this weekend.

"Everybody's doing fine right now," he said.

At Faith Lutheran Church in Dunedin, the Rev. Peter Kolb handed out a pamphlet outlining "things that each of us can do to help save Terri Schindler-Schiavo."

"Imagine the young woman that's been trapped in a hospice for 15 years," Kolb told his congregation. "One day we're all going to go through the valley. ... Some day, somehow, each of us are going to face that last enemy."

--Times staff writer William R. Levesque and correspondent Rick Gershman contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.

[Last modified March 28, 2005, 09:09:25]

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