Suzanne Vitadamo sister of Terri Schiavo walks next to her mother Mary Schindler in front of the Woodside Hospice
Carlos Barria  /  Reuters
Suzanne Vitadamo, left, sister of brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo, walks next to her mother, Mary Schindler, in front of the Woodside Hospice where Schiavo is being cared for, in Pinellas Park, Fla., on Thursday. news services
updated 3/25/2005 6:33:58 AM ET 2005-03-25T11:33:58

As Terri Schiavo’s health waned, her parents pushed on to restore the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube after the nation’s highest court and judges in Florida defeated their latest legal appeals.

Bob and Mary Schindler held onto the slim hope that Gov. Jeb Bush would somehow find a way to intervene or a federal judge who had turned them down before would see things their way. Bush warned, however, that he was running out of options.

“We’re minute by minute right now. But it doesn’t look like we have much left,” Suzanne Vitadamo, Terri Schiavo’s sister, told The Associated Press late Thursday.

Parents fight on, against the odds
As of early Friday, Terri Schiavo, 41, had been without food or water for almost seven days and was showing signs of dehydration — flaky skin, dry tongue and lips, and sunken eyes, according to attorneys and friends of the Schindlers. Doctors have said she would probably die within a week or two of the tube being pulled.

The woman’s husband, Michael Schiavo, says his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially, and he has been backed by years of court rulings affirming doctors’ diagnoses that Terri Schiavo lives in a persistent vegetative state.

The Schindlers appeared before a federal judge in Tampa late Thursday to make another emergency request that the feeding tube be reattached while they pursue claims that Schiavo’s religious and due-process rights were violated. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore previously rejected a similar request and said Thursday he would work through the night to issue his new ruling.

“It’s very frustrating. Every minute that goes by is a minute that Terri is being starved and dehydrated to death,” said her brother, Bobby Schindler, who said seeing her was like looking at “pictures of prisoners in concentration camps.”

Meanwhile, NBC News has learned that David Gibbs III, an attorney for Schiavo's parents, has suggested that Schiavo have administered an intravenous hydration, a measure that technically would not be a violation of the court order, but might allow Schiavo time while the court order is processed.

Whittemore did not take immediate action on the suggestion. It remains to be seen whether it will be addressed in his opinion when it is released.

Michael Schiavo’s brother, Brian Schiavo, strongly disagreed with that assessment, telling CNN that Terri Schiavo “does look a little withdrawn” but insisting she was not in pain. He added that starvation is simply “part of the death process.”

A lawyer for Michael Schiavo said he hoped the woman’s parents and the governor would finally give up their fight.

“We believe it’s time for that to stop as we approach this Easter weekend and that Mrs. Schiavo be able to die in peace,” attorney George Felos said.

In the federal court hearing, David argued that Terri Schiavo’s rights to life and privacy were being violated. Whittemore interrupted as Gibbs attempted to liken Schiavo’s death to a murder.

“That is the emotional rhetoric of this case. It does not influence this court, and cannot influence this court. I want you to know it and I want the public to know it,” Whittemore said.

A perimeter around the federal courthouse was evacuated during the hearing after a suspicious backpack was found outside. The hearing was not interrupted, and the package was safely detonated using a remote device.

Thursday evening, a man was arrested after he went to a gun store in Seminole and threatened its owner with a box cutter while demanding a weapon to “rescue” Terri Schiavo, the Pinellas County sheriff’s office said.

Legal wrangling
Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. She left no living will, but her husband argued that she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, and contend she could get better.

The dispute has led to what may be the longest, most heavily litigated right-to-die case in U.S. history.

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court, without explanation, refused to order the feeding tube reinserted. The case worked its way through the federal courts and reached the Supreme Court after Congress passed an extraordinary law over the weekend to let the Schindlers take their case to federal court.

Later Thursday, Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer declined to hear Bush’s new allegations that Schiavo was neglected and abused and that her diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state may be wrong.

“The requested intervention ... appears to be brought for the purpose of circumventing the courts’ final judgment and order setting the removal date in violation of the separation of powers doctrine,” Greer wrote.

Bush appealed that decision to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The Florida Supreme Court later declined to take up a separate appeal on a Greer injunction that blocked the state’s social services agency from taking temporary custody of Schiavo while challenges are argued. State law allows the Department of Children & Families to act in emergency situations of adult abuse.

The department also filed another petition before Greer seeking to provide emergency protective services for Schiavo. Greer had not scheduled a hearing, but he indicated one could occur Monday, according to Bush’s office.

“For this lockdown to occur without having the ability to have an open mind, and say, ’Well, maybe there are new facts on the table, maybe there are new technologies, maybe, just maybe, we should be cautious about this’ ... is very troubling,” Bush said.

In his ruling, Greer said an affidavit from a neurologist who believes that Schiavo is “minimally conscious” was not enough to set aside his decision to allow the withdrawal of food and water.

“By clear and convincing evidence, it was determined she did not want to live under such burdensome conditions and that she would refuse such medical treatment-assistance,” Greer wrote.

The Associated Press and NBC News staff contributed to this report.


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