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Battle over coma woman to drag on

Attorneys for the husband of a brain-damaged Florida woman were preparing Wednesday to appeal Gov. Jeb Bush’s order that his wife’s feeding tube be reconnected.
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One of the nation’s longest and most bitter right-to-die battles was headed for further legal confrontation as attorneys for the husband of a brain-damaged Florida woman prepared Wednesday to appeal Gov. Jeb Bush’s order that his wife’s feeding tube be reconnected.

TWO STATE JUDGES refused to overturn Bush’s order, which led a hospital to begin giving fluids to Theresa “Terri” Schiavo six days after her feeding tube was removed. The second judge instead asked an attorney for Schiavo’s husband, Michael, and the state to submit briefs in preparation for a trial.

Michael Schiavo, who last week had won a court order that the feeding tube be removed at the end of a long legal battle with his wife’s family, planned to fight on, said his attorney, George Felos.

An angry Felos said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show that Terri Schiavo was “literally ... abducted from her deathbed.”

“It was just an absolute trampling of her personal rights and her dignity,” he said. “We believe that a court sooner or later, we hope sooner, will find this law to be unconstitutional.”

Felos would not comment on claims by the woman’s family that her brother was turned away when he tried to see his sister Tuesday night. A lawyer for the family said relatives were told that she could have no visitors because Michael Schiavo would not allow it.


Earlier, Felos described Michael Schiavo as “deeply troubled, angry and saddened that his wife’s wishes have become a political ping-pong.”

Felos said Terri Schiavo was exhibiting signs of organ failure when hospital workers began reintroducing fluids into her system after a week without food or water. He said Bush’s order could just make her suffer more before dying.

A hospital spokeswoman would not comment on the assertion. In Tampa, a federal judge denied a request by an advocacy group that Schiavo be kept alive so it could investigate whether removal of the tube was abusive.

In the next stage of the case, Felos will have five days to file additional arguments with state Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird, and the state will have five days after that to respond. Baird will then hold another hearing.

But few expected the case to end when Baird rendered his decision.

“It presents a new legal issue that I’ve never heard of,” said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen Grimes.

Former state Attorney General Bob Butterworth said the coming legal wrangling “could be fairly historic.”

“It’s going to be a very interesting case, to say the least,” he said.

Schiavo never signed a living will, which lets people exercise their right to die should they become comatose and need machines or feeding tubes to keep them alive.

But her husband says she told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents said she never told them of the wish.

Tuesday was a tumultuous day in the case, as the state Legislature rushed to pass a bill to give Bush the power to save Schiavo’s life, which he quickly signed before sending an order to the Pinellas Park hospice where Terri Schiavo had been slowly starving to death.

An ambulance took Schiavo to the hospital after Bush issued the order. A crowd outside the hospital cheered as the ambulance left for the hospital.

“I’m ecstatic she’s being fed again,” said her brother, Bob Schindler Jr. “I don’t think I can describe the way I feel right now. It’s been unreal.”

“It’s restored my belief in God,” said Schiavo’s father, Bob Schindler.

Suzanne Carr, the woman’s sister, called lawmakers’ action “a miracle, an absolute miracle.”

Her mother, Mary Schindler, broke down and cried after the Senate vote.


Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed last Wednesday. Doctors said the 39-year-old woman would die within a week to 10 days without nutrition and water.

Bush initially said he could not legally intervene in the case, but that changed Tuesday when the Senate voted 23-15 for legislation to save Schiavo. Within minutes, the House voted 73-24 to send the bill to Bush.

Although the Legislature acted swiftly, even some who supported the bill expressed concern about it.

“I hope, I really do hope we’ve done the right thing,” said Senate President Jim King, a Republican. “I keep on thinking ‘What if Terri didn’t really want this done at all?’ May God have mercy on all of us.”

But other proponents of the measure said they had no misgivings about intervening.

“Let us err on the part of not condemning this woman to a painful death that she can feel,” Republican Sen. Anna Cowin said.

Opponents said government was stepping in where it had no business being.

“How dare this Legislature and this governor substitute its judgment for the family’s?” said Sen. Steven Geller, a Democrat.

The bill was designed to be as narrow as possible. It is limited to cases in which the patient left no living will, is in a persistent vegetative state and has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed and when a family member has challenged the removal.

Court-appointed doctors have described Schiavo as being in a vegetative state, caused when her heart stopped in 1990 from a suspected chemical imbalance.

Bush last week promised the woman’s parents that he would help them if he could find a way.

The state Supreme Court has twice refused to hear the case, which has also been rejected for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, a Florida appeals court again refused to block removal of the tube.

Felos said he believed the legislation was unconstitutional. It is Terri Schiavo’s right under the Florida Constitution to not be kept alive artificially, and the courts have affirmed that, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.