March 31, 2005
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - Nearly two weeks after Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was disconnected, her parents endured what their lawyer says may be their last legal setback when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.
The ruling Wednesday night came as Schiavo, 41, began her 13th day without food and water. Earlier in the day, a federal appeals court also refused to intervene in the case.
Schiavo, who is brain-damaged, was expected to survive one to two weeks after the tube was removed by court order March 18. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, insists he is carrying out her wishes by having the tube pulled.
Prospects for a legal victory have grown increasingly slim for Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who dispute that their daughter is in a persistent vegetative state, as court-appointed doctors have determined.
"She is demonstrating an amazing sparkle and desire to live," David Gibbs III, who represents the Schindlers, said Wednesday. "I would say she looks pretty stable compared to the last couple of days."
As for next legal steps, Gibbs said: "It appears that will be the last legal appeal at this time, unless something comes up."
The Schindlers maintained that while Schiavo was weak, her organs were functioning Wednesday and she was responsive. "I'm asking that nobody throw in the towel as long as she's fighting, to keep fighting with her," Bob Schindler said.
George Felos, the attorney for Schiavo's husband, declined to comment.
The case has spent seven years winding its way through the courts, with the Schindlers repeatedly on the losing end. The nation's high court on Wednesday declined to intervene for the sixth time. Hours earlier in an 9-2 ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta declined to grant a new hearing in the case - the fourth time since last week that it ruled against the Schindlers.
One of the appeals court judges rebuked the White House and lawmakers Wednesday for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people - our Constitution."
"Any further action by our court or the district court would be improper," wrote Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., appointed by President Bush's father.
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.
The Schindlers had asked the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court to order the reinsertion of their daughter's feeding tube immediately 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 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.
But appeals court judges Gerald Tjoflat and Charles R. Wilson, the same two judges who also issued dissenting opinions 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 "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."
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 court's decision to reject the appeal was expected and came without comment. 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 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.
Six protesters were arrested Wednesday, including one who was arrested when he tried to take a plastic cup of water into Terri Schiavo's hospice. Officers stopped him at the gate as he shouted: "You don't know God from Godzilla!"
Fifty-three protesters have been arrested since the tube was removed.