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Father: 'Still fighting to hold onto life'

Published March 29, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Her mother struggled just to visit her.

Her father worried about a morphine overdose.

Her husband announced an autopsy would be done to dispel allegations of abuse.

Eleven days after her feeding tube was removed, Terri Schiavo clung to life Monday as all signs pointed to a conclusion that seemed in dispute only a few days ago. Her family continued to visit, but Mary Schindler at times stayed home.

"This strong, strong Italian mother can not bear to go into the room and see her daughter," said Brother Paul O'Donnell, a Franciscan monk and family spokesman.

The world on Monday waited for Terri Schiavo to die, or hoped for a savior.

Bob Schindler, his face haggard, his voice deliberate, stood outside Hospice House Woodside and again pleaded for political leaders to intervene.

His daughter is emaciated but "still fighting to hold onto life," Schindler said.

George Felos, the attorney for Schiavo's husband, said her death was near, but not necessarily imminent. "Her breathing is not labored," said Felos, who spent about an hour visiting Terri Schiavo. "Her skin tone is fine."

Michael Schiavo also spends time in the hospice, leaving occasionally through a back entrance, O'Donnell said. When Schiavo is not with his wife, hospice workers and police notify the Schindler family that they can come visit.

Today, civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson is expected to arrive at the hospice, responding to an invitation from the Schindler family to come and pray with them, and if possible visit Terri Schiavo.

"I think the feeding tube should be reinstated. This is a very tough emotional, ethical, political issue. But you know she is brain impaired, she is not brain-dead. And right now they're starving her to death," Jackson said in a statement.

In Washington on Monday, two dozen protesters endured chilly rain outside the White House gates, calling on President Bush to ask Congress to reconvene immediately. A week ago, the president signed a bill intended to prolong Schiavo's life.

But the president wasn't back from Easter vacation. And in Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush repeated that he had no more options, either.

"I have not seen any means by which the executive branch can get involved," he said. "My heart is broken about this."

As talk of legal and political intervention faded, talk of morphine and autopsies filled the vacuum.

The Schindler family has suggested that an autopsy might confirm their claims that Terri Schiavo was abused by her husband before her collapse in 1990, an accusation Michael Schiavo has repeatedly denied.

On Monday, Felos said Michael Schiavo has asked Jon Thogmartin, the state's medical examiner for Pinellas and Pasco counties, to perform an autopsy on his wife and make the results public, so the truth would be known.

Thogmartin has "extremely high and well-regarded credentials," Felos said.

The Schindlers' attorney, David Gibbs III, said he welcomed the move.

"We think it's a good idea," said Gibbs, who visited Terri Schiavo late Monday. "We want to know, what happened in 1990? Was there any strangulation or abuse, did she have a heart attack?"

Schiavo suffered severe brain damage after a cardiac arrest and has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 15 years.

On Monday, the Schindler and Michael Schiavo camps were so bitterly divided, they couldn't agree on Terri Schiavo's condition that day.

Felos said she appeared calm and relaxed, and he "saw no evidence for any bodily discomfort whatsoever."

But Terri Schiavo's sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, said the look on her sister's face said, "Please help me." And Sherri Payne, a longtime friend and dancing buddy, said Schiavo lifted her arms and made guttural sounds during a visit Sunday night.

"She was so vocal, it actually frightened me," Payne said.

Bob Schindler said he feared a morphine drip being administered to his daughter. "I have a great concern that they will expedite the process to kill her with an overdose of morphine because that's the procedure that happens."

Felos, though, said Terri Schiavo was not on a morphine drip, but instead had been given a tiny amount of it through a suppository. And hospice spokesman Mike Bell said a fundamental rule of hospice care is to "do nothing to either hasten or postpone natural death."

Comfort measures, he said, including morphine, are used in consultation with a patient's guardian, physician and hospice care team.

Compared with the crush of protesters over Easter weekend, Monday's crowd outside the hospice was smaller and well behaved. Pinellas school officials, worried about the potential for turmoil spilling over to nearby Cross Bayou Elementary School, shifted classes elsewhere for the day.

Eight more people were arrested Monday, bringing the total to 45. By midafternoon two busloads of parishioners from three Catholic churches in Miami arrived. Several church leaders and nuns from a Miami convent hugged Mary Schindler.

For the second time in 10 days, Ted and Rosemarie Mitchell traveled from their Panama City, Fla., home to bear witness for parents with disabled children. Their son Teddy died in 1994 at age 35, after 29 years of bedridden care, stricken by a disease that severely damaged his brain.

"From what I see on TV about Terri, the sounds she makes, the smile, the slow head movements, he was identical," Rosemarie Mitchell said. "The Schindlers should have the right to take her home and let her die in their arms." She and her husband wore signs proclaiming they were "prolife atheists."

In Pinellas Park, City Manager Mike Gustafson declined to say how many extra officers the city has on the scene, but said the hospice is paying for four of them at a cost of $41,184 since Schiavo's feeding tube was removed March 18.

Also Monday, a North Carolina man charged with murder for hire and accused of putting a bounty on Michael Schiavo and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer made his first appearance in federal court in Asheville, N.C.

Defense attorney Sean Devereux told a federal judge that Richard Alan Meywes "wants to make it clear to the court and the world this was a terrible lack of judgment on his part."

Gibbs, the Schindlers' attorney, said Saturday that all legal options appear exhausted, but over the weekend, his office received more than 5,000 faxes from people suggesting other maneuvers. He said all were reviewed and considered, but almost all had been tried.

The only remaining legal option is an appeal by the state Department of Children and Families, which is seeking to have the feeding tube reinserted so it can investigate allegations that Terri Schiavo has been abused.

Gibbs said he expected a decision from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in a day or two. That court has rejected previous appeals.

At Monday's protest in Washington, demonstrators were able to meet only with an attorney from the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and another who represented the House. Neither offered much hope.

"It's asking a lot," said Jack O'Brien, 41, an electrician who drove from suburban Philadelphia to protest. "It would take a courageous step by one man to stop it."

But he added, "You're asking a mother to watch helplessly while her daughter is dying."

--Times staff writers Wes Allison, Graham Brink and Anne Lindberg contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press and the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times.

[Last modified March 29, 2005, 05:44:39]

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