Schiavo's family urges Jeb Bush to act as legal appeals fail
By Ellen Gamerman
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In this undated photo released by the Schindler family, Terri Schiavo is shown before she suffered catastrophic brain damage. (SCHINDLER FAMILY)
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Legal options appeared to run out for Terri Schiavo's parents yesterday as a state judge and Florida's Supreme Court denied their petition to have their daughter's feeding tube reinserted.
The rejection of the emergency petition, which detailed an 11th-hour claim that Schiavo had expressed her desire to live shortly before the feeding tube was removed, left the family imploring Gov. Jeb Bush to step in and have the state wrest custody of the severely brain-damaged woman.
"Governor Bush, you do have the authority to stop the killing of Terri Schiavo within your executive office," Paul O'Donnell, the family's spokesman and spiritual adviser, said last night. "We beg you to have courage and take action."
The governor, who took on the Schiavo case as a personal cause, has said he would not intervene in defiance of court rulings.
The court decisions came on a day when Michael Schiavo and his wife's family bitterly disagreed over the details surrounding Schiavo's slow death. The sides divided over when the severely brain-damaged woman should again receive Communion, what should be done with her remains, even the status of her current physical state.
After visiting Terri Schiavo yesterday for the first time since the removal of her feeding tube more than a week ago, Michael Schiavo's lawyer said the woman's death did not appear to be imminent but was likely more a matter of days than hours. Noting that he has years of experience as a volunteer hospice worker, attorney George Felos rejected claims she is suffering.
"She is calm, she is peaceful, she is resting comfortably," Felos told reporters. He specifically disputed the family's recent descriptions of Schiavo.
"Her lips are not chapped, they're not bleeding. Her skin's not peeling. Frankly when I saw her ... she looked beautiful. In all the years I've seen Mrs. Schiavo, I've never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her."
But a lawyer for Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, said the 41-year-old Florida woman's decline might become irreversible over the Easter weekend, and he urged authorities to move quickly in a last-ditch effort to save her.
'It's sick, it's heinous'
Family members said Schiavo, who was expected to live between one and two weeks after her feeding tube was removed, has visibly deteriorated. They called on Felos to allow the release of video footage or photographs of the dying woman, saying it would show her anguish. Felos rejected that request as a breach of her privacy.
"It's sick, it's heinous what is happening to my sister," said Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother. Family members say that dehydration had caused Schiavo's tongue and eyes to bleed. "I assure you she is not dying peacefully and painlessly, and I want to actually suggest to my parents not to go in and visit their daughter anymore."
As the acrimony escalated, security appeared to tighten around the players in this emotional saga. Felos arrived at his news conference accompanied by several sheriff's deputies and he refused to specify the exact protections for his own family. He also would not detail the comings and goings of Michael Schiavo, who has been largely staying inside the hospice and has not appeared in public for several days.
Reports of snipers on the roof of the hospice added to the tension yesterday, and another protester was arrested in the afternoon while trying to bring water to Schiavo, who is protected by armed guards.
Amid the pitched legal battle over Terri Schiavo that has been fought through his court, Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer has been under the protection of armed guards, and friends say his family also is protected. On Friday, the FBI arrested a North Carolina man, Richard Alan Meywes, for allegedly placing a $250,000 bounty on Michael Schiavo and offering $50,000 for the murder of an unnamed judge, who has ruled against the Schindlers. Another man, Michael W. Mitchell, of Rockford, Ill., remains in jail after authorities say he put his knee into a glass display at a nearby gun shop Thursday, took a handgun and announced that he was intending to rescue Schiavo.
At one point yesterday, there appeared to be a kind of truce in the divided family. Schiavo's lawyer praised the Schindlers for giving up their federal court fight to have their daughter's feeding tube reinserted.
But less than an hour later, the Schindlers bypassed a state appeals court and went directly to the Florida Supreme Court to ask that it resume her nourishment. Last night, the justices declined.
Before the high court's decision, Judge Greer rejected the Schindlers' motion, which claimed that Schiavo attempted to say, "I want to live" after her feeding tube was removed. Schiavo's lawyers say these were involuntary noises common among victims of brain damage.
Yesterday, Schiavo's father was still urging authorities to sidestep the courts and intervene.
"She is fighting like hell to stay alive," Robert Schindler said. "I want the powers that be to know that it's not too late to save her. So anyone that has the authority to come in and to save Terri, they can do it."
Though Congress and President Bush intervened in the matter on behalf of the Schindlers, federal and state courts have consistently ruled for Michael Schiavo, who has argued that his wife did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. Schiavo collapsed in 1990 from a possible potassium imbalance and has been in what doctors have described as a persistent vegetative state since then. The Schindlers have alleged their daughter is capable of a recovery and contend that she continues to demonstrate the will to live.
Schiavo has received last rites and communion through her feeding tube just before it was removed. Through his lawyer, Michael Schiavo rejected his in-law's requests that Schiavo receive another communion last night. Felos said that according to court order, she will receive one more sacrament at a time to be determined by her husband. But again, the family fought back.
"I beg Michael Schiavo, for the love of God, to allow Terri Schiavo, a practicing Roman Catholic, to have Holy Communion on the highest feast of our church," said O'Donnell, the family's spiritual adviser, asking for a "minuscule" portion of the wafer and a drop of consecrated wine to be put in her mouth.
Fight after death
The two sides also are gearing up for a fight over the eventual fate of Schiavo's remains. Michael Schiavo has said his wife will be cremated, her remains interred in a family plot in Pennsylvania, where they both were raised. And Felos said the court has determined that is his decision as her husband. The family would like to have her remains buried in Florida, and some supporters of the Schindlers are calling for an autopsy, alleging that Schiavo was the victim of spousal abuse.
Amid this bitter atmosphere, Felos suggested that his client would not be overly inclined to cooperate with his in-laws when it came to funeral arrangements.
"This is a man who shamelessly has been called by the parents and the siblings of Terri an abuser and a murderer," Felos said. "I think anyone can understand how Mr. Schiavo feels in this situation."