A judge Wednesday extended a stay keeping brain-damaged Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube in place, saying he needed time to decide whether her husband, who wants to let her die, is fit to be her guardian.
Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer extended until Friday an emergency stay that was to expire Wednesday afternoon. He said he also needs more time to determine whether Terri Schiavo needs more medical tests to determine if she has greater mental capabilities than previously thought.
“We are really elated,” said Robert Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s father. “Forty-eight hours to us right now seems like six years.”
Terri Schiavo’s parents have been in a long, bitter struggle with husband Michael Schiavo to keep her alive. She collapsed 15 years ago Friday, when a chemical imbalance possibly triggered by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating and cut off oxygen to her brain.
On Tuesday, an appeals court allowed the expiration of a stay that had been the last obstacle keeping Michael Schiavo from removing his wife’s feeding tube. Greer, however, issued his emergency stay later that day.
Allegations of abuse
The Florida Department of Children & Families moved to intervene in the case Wednesday, hours after Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters he was seeking a way to keep Terri Schiavo alive.
Details of DCF’s involvement in the case were not immediately available, and both the governor’s office and the agency declined to comment. Greer denied a DCF attorney an opportunity to speak at the afternoon hearing.
A court filing by the agency remained sealed, but attorneys for Schiavo’s husband and her parents said it was related to allegations Michael Schiavo abused his wife.
Those allegations, which have been raised before, are based partly on bone scans showing Terri Schiavo suffered fractures and statements she made to family and friends that she was unhappy in her marriage. Michael Schiavo has denied harming his wife.
George Felos, who represents Michael Schiavo, said DCF has already investigated the allegations and ruled them unfounded. He criticized the DCF move, saying it “reeks of the intervention of politics into the case and is an affront to the court.”
The Schindlers’ attorney, David Gibbs, countered that there are serious allegations of abuse in the case.
Schindler said he and his wife, Mary, were “very, very thankful that DCF has picked this up.”
Debate over Schiavo prospects
Some doctors have testified that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery, but the Schindlers have countered with other medical opinions that she might improve with rehabilitation. The 41-year-old woman appears to cry, laugh and react to her family.
With the Schindlers’ previous legal appeals exhausted, Michael Schiavo had planned to remove his wife’s feeding tube Monday. Doctors have said she would live no more than a week or two without getting food and water through the tube inserted into her abdomen.
Gibbs told the judge there should be no rush to disconnect the tube if there is a chance new tests could show she might have some mental capacity.
“Just suppose we are wrong?” he told Greer. “At the end of the day all we did was make sure.”
Felos said doctors who have examined Terri Schiavo found she is capable of only primitive reflexes and that the areas of her brain controlling interaction with her environment or others have been destroyed.
Gov. Bush: ‘I will do what I can’
Bush said Wednesday he was exploring options to block the removal of the tube but added that there was only so much he can do.
“I can assure you, I will do whatever I can within the means, within the laws, of our state to protect this woman’s life,” Bush said, adding that he has received thousands of e-mails and telephone calls from the Schindlers’ supporters.
“People with deep faith and big hearts are concerned, as I am about the circumstance that Ms. Schiavo is in,” the governor said. “I want them to know I will do what I can, but there are limits to what any particular person — irrespective of the title they currently hold — can do.”
In October 2003, Schiavo went without food or water for six days before Bush pushed through a law letting him order reinsertion of the tube. The Florida Supreme Court later struck down his action as unconstitutional. The tube was also removed for two days in 2001.
Michael Schiavo said his wife never wanted to be kept alive artificially, but she left no written directive.
The Schindlers dispute their daughter had such wishes and say their son-in-law stands to gain from his wife’s death, both financially and personally. They have offered to take care of her if Michael Schiavo, who has a new family with another woman, would divorce her.
Michael Schiavo once stood to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars from a medical trust fund if his wife died, but most of that money has been spent on attorney’s fees.