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THE NATION

Bill Fights Removal of Feeding Tube

October 21, 2003|From Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida House voted late Monday to give Gov. Jeb Bush the power to intervene in the case of a brain-damaged woman whose feeding tube was removed last week by her husband's order.

The House voted, 68-23, in favor of the bill. The state Senate planned to take it up today. The measure would give the state's governor 15 days to order a feeding tube to be reinserted in cases like Terri Schiavo's.

The governor's power would be limited to cases in which a family member has challenged the removal of nutrition and hydration tubes from a person in a persistent vegetative state who has left no living will.

Schiavo, 39, meets all of the bill's requirements. She has been at the center of a decade-long court battle between her parents, who want her to survive, and her husband, who says he is carrying out his wife's wishes to not be kept alive artificially.

Bush said in a statement earlier Monday that lawmakers understand the "unique and tragic circumstances of Ms. Schiavo's case."

"I am hopeful the Legislature will pass a bill immediately," he said.

Court-appointed doctors have described Schiavo as being in a vegetative state since her heart stopped in 1990 from a suspected potassium imbalance.

The feeding tube was removed Wednesday. Doctors estimated Monday that Terri Schiavo would live little more than another week without it.

George Felos, attorney for the husband, Michael Schiavo, said he thinks the House legislation is unconstitutional. "I don't believe that the Legislature has the authority to interfere," Felos said.

Courts have affirmed Terri Schiavo's right under the Florida Constitution to not be kept alive artificially, he added.

Pat Anderson, attorney for the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, said she was "dumbfounded" by the Legislature's intervention, although the Schindlers had hoped for it.

During two hours of House debate, several Democrats argued that the Constitution doesn't allow the Legislature to give the governor the power to overrule the courts.

"This bill so oversteps our role it ... turns democracy on its head," Rep. Dan Gelber said.

But Republicans said that where judges might be wrong, especially in cases like Schiavo's, such legislation is desperately needed.

"Whether it's legal or not, I'm telling you, you should support this bill," GOP Rep. Don Davis said.

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