PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case for the sixth time late Wednesday, taking less than two hours to reject her parents’ request that the feeding tube for their brain-damaged daughter be reinserted.
The one-sentence ruling came hours after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resoundingly declined to intervene in the case. Justices did not explain their decision and there was no indication how they voted.
The Supreme Court’s decision, on Schiavo’s 13th day without food or water, was the latest in a string of losses in state and federal courts for her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and the second time in a week the high court rejected the parents’ claims.
Schiavo’s husband, Michael, insists he is carrying out his wife’s wishes by having the tube pulled. It was removed March 18 after a yearslong legal battle, and Terri Schiavo, 41, was expected to survive one to two weeks without it.
The woman’s parents maintained that while Schiavo was weak, her organs were functioning Wednesday and she was responsive. They urged supporters to keep up efforts to reconnect her feeding tube before it is too late.
“Under the circumstances, she looks darn good, surprisingly good,” Bob Schindler said after visiting his daughter Wednesday afternoon. “I’m asking that nobody throw in the towel as long as she’s fighting, to keep fighting with her,” he said.
George Felos, the attorney for Schiavo’s husband, declined to comment.
The appeals court had raised the Schindlers’ hopes late Tuesday when it agreed to consider their emergency bid for a new hearing in the case. But 15 hours later, the court ruled against granting a hearing — the fourth time since last week that it ruled against the Schindlers.
“Any further action by our court or the district court would be improper,” wrote Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., one of the members of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit. “While the members of her family and the members of Congress have acted in a way that is both fervent and sincere, the time has come for dispassionate discharge of duty.”
The judge went on to deliver a scathing attack on politicians who got involved in the case, saying the White House and lawmakers “have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people — our Constitution.”
The Schindlers had asked the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court to order the reinsertion of their daughter’s feeding tube so a federal district court can review the case from its beginning, including whether there was enough “clear and convincing” evidence that she would have chosen to die in her current condition.
The parents asked that the feeding tube be reinserted immediately “in light of the magnitude of what is at stake and the urgency of the action required.”
The Schindlers’ motion included arguments that the 11th Circuit in its earlier rulings did not consider whether there was enough evidence that Terri Schiavo would have chosen to die.
To be granted, the parents’ request would have needed the support of seven of the appeals court’s 12 judges. The court did not disclose the vote breakdown.
Judges Gerald Tjoflat and Charles R. Wilson, the same two judges who also issued a dissenting opinion last week when the full court considered the case for the first time, said the harried pace of appeals made it impossible to determine if state courts properly considered the evidence.
The two dissenters said Wednesday that “it is fully within Congress’s power to dictate standards of review” for federal courts. “Indeed, if Congress cannot do so, the fate of hundreds of federal statutes would be called into question.”
Federal courts were given jurisdiction to review Schiavo’s case after Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation aimed at prolonging her life. But federal courts at three levels have rebuffed her parents, and Birch said the court had no jurisdiction in the case because the law was at odds with the Constitutional principles of separation of powers.
The Schindlers’ Supreme Court appeal went first to Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who has staked a moderate position on social issues. He referred the Schiavo case to the full nine-member court.
The order from the court was swift. Schiavo’s parents filed their request shortly after 9 p.m. EST, and the court released its order at 10:40 p.m. For the parents’ previous request, last week, it took the justices about 12 hours to reject.
The court’s decision was expected. Not only had justices repeatedly declined to intervene in the Schiavo case on previous occasions, but they routinely defer to state courts on family law issues.
Judges in various Florida courts have sided with Schiavo’s husband since she suffered brain damage in 1990, when her heart stopped for several minutes because of a chemical imbalance apparently brought on by an eating disorder.
Her parents doubt she had any end-of-life wishes and dispute that she is in a persistent vegetative state as court-ordered doctors have determined. They say she laughs, tries to speak and responds to them when they visit the hospice.
Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said it is hard to predict what would happen if the tube were to be reinserted because it is highly unusual to do that after life-prolonging treatments have been stopped.
He said that if her kidneys have already shut down, reinserting the tube at this point might prolong her life by just hours or days. However, it could also hasten her death, he said, because it would supply fluids to a body that can no longer get rid of them.
Three protesters were arrested Wednesday, including one who was arrested when he tried to take a plastic cup of water into the hospice. Officers stopped him at the gate as he shouted: “You don’t know God from Godzilla!”
Fifty protesters have been arrested since the tube was removed.
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