CLEARWATER – A brain-damaged woman whose parents and husband are locked in a battle over her life looked gaunt, with red-ringed eyes, as a tube inserted in her abdomen pumped in nourishment after a week without it, the parents’ attorney said.
Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was replaced Wednesday at Morton Plant Hospital, where the woman was taken after Gov. Jeb Bush – empowered by emergency legislation by state lawmakers – ordered her kept alive.
Husband Michael Schiavo’s attorney complained the woman was “abducted from her deathbed” and being mistreated by attempts to keep her alive, and legal scholars predicted that Bush’s intervention would be ruled unconstitutional
“It is so repugnant to so many provisions of Florida’s constitution, we are all certain that it will be overturned,” lawyer George Felos said.
The case is one of the nation’s longest and most contentious right-to-die cases. Terri Schiavo has been in a what doctors call a “persistent vegetative state” and on a feeding tube since 1990, when her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance. Her eyes are open, but doctors say she has no consciousness.
The feeding tube was removed by court order last Wednesday at the insistence of Michael Schiavo, who has custody.
Pat Anderson, a lawyer for Terri Schiavo’s parents, confirmed she was receiving nourishment through a tube and said he believes her emaciated appearance “is the price of moving her.”
“This back-and-forth shell game can’t be good for her,” he said.
After the tube was reinserted, the woman was taken back to the hospice that cared for her several years. The family visited her there, in a Clearwater suburb.
Terri Schiavo’s brother, Bob Schindler Jr., said his sister was “alert and responsive” as family members hugged and kissed her during their visit.
The woman’s father, Bob Schindler, said he hoped his daughter would recover from being without food or water for six days.
“Terri is so resilient,” he said. “Tomorrow she could be back the same way she was before she left here. Maybe she needs sleep.”
Bob Schindler and his wife, Mary, say she still could recover. Michael Schiavo contends that she told him she would rather die than be kept alive artificially, but family members said they never heard her say anything like that.
On Tuesday, the Legislature rushed through a bill designed to save Schiavo’s life, and Bush quickly invoked the law and ordered the feeding tube reinserted.
A judge later rejected a request by Michael Schiavo to block Bush’s order but said he would consider it again after both sides file briefs.
Legal experts widely agreed that the governor and Legislature went too far.
“This particular administration has not yet understood why we have separation of powers,” said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan. “They seem to believe that the governor and the Legislature can do whatever they want and the courts should not interfere and that’s not right.”
Bush and the Republican-led Legislature have a reputation for being at odds with the courts. They have clashed over abortion and the death penalty.
Felos said earlier that the woman was quietly dying after the tube was removed, that her heartbeat had become irregular and her kidneys were shutting down, and that it was “simply inhumane and barbaric to interrupt her death process.”
“The hysterical opposition to his case says so much more about us as a society,” he said. “I think it says so much more about our fear of death than the sanctity of life.”
Outside the hospice later, Anderson again called for Michael Schiavo to remove himself from the case and let the Schindlers take care of their daughter, as they have offered.
“He’s already moved on with his life”‘ she said. “Just leave her alone.”
A message left on an answering machine at Felos’ office seeking a response was not immediately returned.
The bill sent to Bush 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, has had nutrition and hydration tubes removed, and where a family member has challenged the removal.