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Motion seeks say in fate of woman

By ANITA KUMAR

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2000


A group of doctors, lawyers and other professionals want a judge to allow a 36-year-old St. Petersburg woman with brain damage to continue being fed through a tube despite her husband's request to let her die.

Professionals for Excellence in Health Care filed a request to intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo this week and argue before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge George Greer that Mrs. Schiavo should be kept alive because her family is unclear about her wishes.

"The bottom line is if you're going to choose, you should choose on the side of life," said George Tragos, a group member and the attorney who filed the motion. "How can someone say life is not in her best interest?"

It is unclear whether Greer, who had planned to make a ruling in the case Friday afternoon, would postpone making his decision.

Greer must decide whether Mrs. Schiavo, who did not have a living will, would have wanted to prolong her life by artificial means.

Her husband, Michael, said she would not have wanted to live in what doctors describe as a persistent vegetative state, and he wants her feeding tube removed. But her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, are trying to stop him, saying they hope their daughter will improve.

The Schindlers and their attorney, Pamela Campbell, said Wednesday they were encouraged by the motion but did not know whether it would sway the judge.

"When this thing started, it was just us," Bob Schindler said. "To have people intervene on our behalf is very rewarding. It's heartwarming."

Professionals for Excellence in Health Care, which is composed of about 50 Pinellas County doctors, nurses, pharmacists, attorneys and clergy and their spouses, formed several years ago in part to oppose physician-assisted death and euthanasia. The group, which describes itself as "pro-life," has lobbied state lawmakers in Tallahassee.

This is the first court case with which the group has become involved.

"We did this on our own," Tragos said. "We're in a unique position to do this because we are not involved in either side."

Asked why their motion came only days before the judge was scheduled to rule in the case, Tragos said they only learned of the case recently. The judge will have to decide whether the group has legal standing to intervene in the case.

Schiavo and his attorneys, George and Constance Felos, could not be reached Wednesday. Mrs. Schiavo collapsed at her St. Petersburg home on Feb. 25, 1990. She has been in a vegetative state ever since and now lives in Palm Gardens nursing home in Largo.

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