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Comatose Florida Woman's Feeding Tube Is Removed

October 16, 2003|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — For six years, the husband and parents of a Florida woman in a vegetative state battled in court over whether she should be kept alive. On Wednesday, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, as her husband wanted. But Gov. Jeb Bush said he might intervene.

Schiavo, 39, has been in a coma-like condition since suffering heart failure in 1990, which cut off oxygen to her brain. The parents of the woman, who is being cared for at a hospice in Pinellas Park, north of St. Petersburg, say she has tried to communicate, and could be trained to eat and drink by herself.

A state court, however, granted permission to the woman's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, to remove the tube, an action that would lead to her death. Schiavo has said he wanted to respect his wife's desires that she not be kept alive through artificial means.

Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman in the governor's office in Tallahassee, confirmed that the tube was withdrawn Wednesday afternoon. Medical experts have said that without such a means of life support, it could take up to two weeks for Terri Schiavo to die.

"In our eyes, it's murder," Bob Schindler, her father, said on CBS' "Early Show."

Thwarted in the courts, Schindler and his wife, Mary, met later in the day with Bush, who vowed to try to find a way to keep the woman alive.

"We are going to seek whatever legal alternatives are available and seek the best minds to find another avenue to submit to the courts to see if there can be a change in the ruling," Bush, the president's brother, told reporters.

"I am not a doctor, I am not a lawyer," the Republican governor said during an appearance in the Central Florida town of Dover. "But I know that if a person can be able to sustain life without life support, that should be tried."

Bush aides acknowledged that their options were limited. "Basically, the Florida Constitution prevents the governor from overruling a court decision," DiPietre said. But he said that after meeting the Schindlers, Bush ordered his legal office to contact experts on constitutional law.

"We're doing that right now," DiPietre said. "The governor will be looking at all the options that are available."

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube had been removed once before. It was reinserted by court order. "Last time, she went 60 hours, and there was no damage," her father told CNN after meeting Bush. "And so we have time.... I have confidence that something will happen."

In another Florida case this year that drew national attention, Bush asked an Orlando court to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a mentally disabled rape victim. A judge declined to do so, citing a 1989 decision of the Florida Supreme Court that appointing a guardian for an unborn child was "clearly improper."

"The governor probably more than any other state official has the responsibility to ensure that the laws of the state are executed, and he also has a responsibility to give a voice to the citizens of the state," DiPietre said. "And that is what he has done" for Terri Schiavo.

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