Life-support caseextended 3 weeks

Terri Schiavo, right, gets a kiss from her mother, Mary Schindler, in this 2001 image taken from a videotape and released by the Schindler family.Schindler Family / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge gave Terri Schiavo’s husband permission to remove the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube in three weeks, handing him a victory in his effort to carry out what he says were his wife’s wishes not to be kept alive artificially.

The ruling by Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer will allow the husband, Michael Schiavo, to order the tube removed at 1 p.m. on March 18. In the meantime, the woman’s parents, who want her kept alive, are expected to ask another court to block the order from taking effect.

The judge wrote that he was no longer comfortable granting delays in the family feud, which has been going on for nearly seven years and has been waged in every level of Florida’s court system. He said the case must end.

“The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions,” Greer wrote. “There will always be ’new’ issues.”

The decision came on the 15th anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s collapse, when a chemical imbalance brought on by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating. The feeding tube keeps the 41-year-old woman alive.

"It’s a relief, a temporary relief,” Terri’s father, Bob Schindler, told reporters in a news conference outside the hospice where his daughter now lives. “I don’t see it as a victory, the victory is when we take Terri home and we get her therapy.”

Schindler lamented there is not much time to pursue an appeal. Greer previously granted the parents a stay until 5 p.m. Friday.

Husband applauds decision
The judge made his decision after pleadings from the parents that they need more time to pursue additional medical tests which might prove their daughter has more mental capabilities than previously thought.

George Felos, Michael Schiavo’s attorney, issued a statement applauding Greer’s decision.

“I am very pleased that the Court has recognized there must be a finality to this process.” Felos said. “I am hopeful and confident that the appellate court will also agree that Terri’s wishes not to be kept alive artificially must now be enforced.”

State officials also are trying to intervene in the case. Attorneys for the Schindlers said the state wants a 60-day stay to investigate allegations that she is being mistreated by being denied appropriate medical care and rehabilitation.

The Schindlers and their son-in-law have fought each other in court since the late 1990s on whether Terri Schiavo should live or die. The two sides have battled through scores of opinions and rulings and tens of thousands of pages of filings.

The feud has taken on elements of a soap opera, with allegations that it began as a fight over more than $1 million awarded to Terri Schiavo in a medical malpractice case which her husband stood to inherit. Michael Schiavo has also been accused by his in-laws of having a conflict of interest in wanting his wife dead because he has started a new family with another woman.

Protesters support Schiavo's parents
The Schindlers do not believe their daughter is in a persistent vegetative state as court-appointed doctors have ruled.

A handful of people protested outside the office of Michael Schiavo’s lawyer, part of a coordinated effort that has included petition drives, e-mail and telephone calls to Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers.

“I am here because Terri deserves the right to live,” said Mary LaFrancis, 70, a retired nurse who drove from Iowa to join in the protests.

In Tallahassee, the family’s supporters kept up pressure on Bush and lawmakers to act. A petition from the Fort Lauderdale-based Center for Reclaiming America claiming to bear 100,000 signatures collected online was delivered to the governor’s office.

A spokeswoman for Bush said the governor will continue to look for ways to keep Terri Schiavo alive. Bush had intervened in October 2003 to keep her alive six days after the tube was removed. But the governor’s law was later struck down as unconstitutional.

A leading Vatican official also has weighed in on behalf of keeping her alive.

“If Mr. Schiavo legally succeeded in provoking the death of his wife, this would not only be tragic in itself, but it would be a serious step toward legally approving euthanasia in the United States,” Cardinal Renato Martino told Vatican Radio on Thursday.