WELLS AND PARIENTE
Phil Coale  /  AP
Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells comments during oral arguments in the Terri Schiavo case Tuesday in Tallahassee, Fla., as Chief Justice Barbara Pariente listens.
updated 8/31/2004 1:01:40 PM ET 2004-08-31T17:01:40

The Florida Supreme Court questioned lawyers Tuesday about the extent of the power handed to Gov. Jeb Bush under a law that let him order the reinsertion of a brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube.

In a crucial hearing in the closely watched right-to-die fight, Justice Charles Wells said he was troubled because he had to conclude the law was designed to sidestep a trial court ruling that found there was “clear and convincing evidence” Terri Schiavo would not want to be hooked up to the tube.

But Bush attorney Ken Connor said the court’s order that the tube be removed was honored. The fact that the tube was reinserted six days later by order of the governor last fall doesn’t alter the removal order, Connor said.

“It wasn’t like an order that said so-and-so shall be hanged by the neck until dead,” Connor said.

The high court did not indicate when it would rule on the case.

Schiavo's husband challenges law
A lawyer for Schiavo’s husband and guardian, Michael, has challenged the constitutionality of the law, which the Legislature passed last October and was in effect for just 15 days.

A trial judge in May ruled that the law violated Terri Schiavo’s privacy rights and the separation of powers between all three branches of government. The governor appealed that ruling and the case was bumped immediately to Florida’s high court.

SCHIAVO
Getty Images  /  Getty Images file
Terri Schiavo is shown in a photo released by her family.
George Felos, representing Michael Schiavo, told the justices the fundamental issue was “who is entitled here to make a decision on a matter so personal and private as whether one would want artificial life support?”

Terri Schiavo, 40, suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped beating, a condition brought on by an eating disorder. She left no written instructions in the event she became incapacitated.

Schiavo can breathe on her own but relies on a feeding tube to live. Some medical experts have declared she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Her husband has argued that she would not want to be kept alive in this way. But her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have disputed that and argued that she could someday regain some of her faculties.

Did Gov. Bush circumvent court decision?
After the lower court judge ruled that there was convincing evidence that Schiavo would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially, Michael Schiavo withdrew the feeding tube last October.

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But in a remarkable week of emotion and political activism by her parents’ supporters, Bush pushed “Terri’s Law” through the Legislature and forced the reinsertion of the tube. The law was narrowly drafted to give the governor authority to issue such an order.

Later, Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird ruled the law wrongly allowed Bush to intervene in a matter of personal privacy and was improperly used by the governor to override a court decision with which he did not agree. The tube is in place in the meantime.

National groups have lined up on each side. Opponents of the law include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys, and Autonomy Inc., a group that supports the decision-making rights of the disabled.

In addition, Felos said the law violates the separation of powers because Bush used it to circumvent a properly issued court ruling reached after more than six years of litigation, scores of hearings and an appeals court review.

Representatives of seven groups backing Bush, including an organization called Not Dead Yet, attended a Monday news conference in Tallahassee to lay out their position.

The Illinois-based group opposes “the growing threat of legalized euthanasia against disabled people, old and young, especially the intellectually disabled,” said its president, Diane Coleman.

Bush has said he thinks the case may help spark a national debate about the ethics of sustaining life, which becomes “more and more important as technologies change to be able to sustain life.”

Terri Schiavo’s younger brother, Bobby Schindler, said Monday that his sister appears to laugh and to react to her surroundings.

“I know she sees and hears us,” he told reporters. “I see her response. It is not wishful thinking. Terri isn’t brain-dead. She’s disabled.”

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