Tags: Florida | Lawmakers | Struggle | Keep | Terri | Schiavo | Alive

Florida Lawmakers Struggle to Keep Terri Schiavo Alive

Thursday, 17 March 2005 12:00 AM

Several senators said Wednesday that they are reluctant to reignite the emotional debate that scorched the chambers in 2003 when the Legislature granted Gov. Jeb Bush the power to overturn a court order and reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube. That law - which cleared the Senate by just eight votes - was later struck down by the Florida Supreme Court.

"We took it up 18 months ago and I just don't know if we should really be making these life or death decisions," said Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who voted to intervene in the case in 2003, but is now undecided. "This is clearly the hardest choice we've had to make."

Wavering legislators were lobbied Wednesday by Schiavo's supporters who, spurred on by her parents, have mounted an aggressive political and public relations campaign to keep their daughter alive.

Telephone calls and e-mails from across the country streamed into the Capitol, prompted by an e-mail alert from Fort Lauderdale's Center for Reclaiming America, part of a network of religious and disability organizations working feverishly to keep Schiavo alive.

"This is a moment of profound moral consequence for our nation," the group's executive director, Gary Cass, said in an e-mail appeal to supporters.

But in Lakeland, a state appeals court upheld a lower court that found Schiavo would want to be removed from the feeding tube, ruling that Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer, while making an agonizing decision, adhered to Florida law.

"We are well aware that many people around the world disagree with the trial court's decision," 2nd District Court of Appeal Chief Judge Chris Altenbernd wrote, adding that Greer made "the most difficult decision after fully considering the evidence and applying a heightened standard of proof that is designed to protect society's intent in sustaining life."

The appeals court also denied a motion by the state Department of Children and Families to delay the removal of the tube, but Greer scheduled a hearing for Thursday on another DCF petition for a stay.

Lawyers for Schiavo's husband, Michael, who has fought with his wife's parents over what the brain-damaged woman would want to do, hailed the appeals court ruling.

"The message they are sending is that there is nothing that the Legislature can do to affect Terri Schiavo's legal situation and it would not be appropriate for them to try," said attorney Deborah Bushnell.

Attorney Barbara Weller, who represents Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, said the family would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court on two counts: that Schiavo was denied an independent attorney, and that she is being denied her religious freedom because Pope John Paul II said in 2004 that it is "morally obligatory" to continue assisted feeding. The Schindlers argue that, as a practicing Catholic, their daughter would have obeyed the pope.

In 2001 and again in January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

The family also held out hope that state lawmakers would come through. But the Senate, alarmed at passing legislation that could affect thousands of Floridians to help just one woman, is balking at House efforts to write a sweeping bill and Senate negotiators met with House counterparts all day to try to hammer out a compromise.

Both chambers are considering legislation that prevents feeding tubes from being removed from patients in a "persistent vegetative state" - Schiavo's diagnosis - unless there are written instructions, such as a living will.

The Senate version only applies to situations like Schiavo's - where a family is feuding over how the patient would want to be treated.

Both chambers are scheduled to take up their own versions Thursday.

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Several senators said Wednesday that they are reluctant to reignite the emotional debate that scorched the chambers in 2003 when the Legislature granted Gov. Jeb Bush the power to overturn a court order and reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube. That law - which cleared the...
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Thursday, 17 March 2005 12:00 AM
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