PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — Fifteen years to the day after Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage, leaving her in a persistent vegetative state, a judge Friday ordered that the feeding tube keeping her alive be removed in three weeks.
According to Pinellas Circuit Judge George W. Greer's instructions, Schiavo's husband, Michael, should disconnect the tube at 1 p.m. March 18.
Schiavo contends that his wife did not want to live through artificial means. But her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, argue that their daughter could improve with therapy. Their lawyer said Friday that they would appeal Greer's order.
This week, the judge issued two brief stays barring Michael Schiavo from having his 41-year-old wife's food and water halted. But Friday, Greer refused to further block his original order, issued in February 2000, that the tube be taken out.
"The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filing of new motions and petitions, since there will always be 'new issues' that can be pled," the judge said. Over the next three weeks, Greer said, Terri Schiavo's parents "will need to demonstrate before the appellate courts that their requests have merit and are worthy of a stay."
Standing in an afternoon rain outside the hospice here where his daughter is being cared for, Bob Schindler said: "There are so many legal issues to argue. I'm afraid we don't have the time."
Michael Schiavo expressed satisfaction that his in-laws' request for another stay had been rejected.
"I am very pleased that the court has recognized there must be a finality to this process," Schiavo said in a statement released by his lawyer, George J. Felos. "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."
On Feb. 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo collapsed from what doctors later said was a potassium imbalance. She left no living will or written instructions on what treatment she desired if she were to become incapacitated -- the reason for the protracted legal battle between her husband and parents.
David C. Gibbs III, the Schindlers' lawyer, said he would be in Greer's office early Monday. He said he would appeal the judge's denial of an extended stay; he also planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that Terri Schiavo -- a Roman Catholic -- would not wish to be deprived of food and water in accordance with the latest papal teachings on how to care for the incapacitated.
Gibbs said he would seek to have a lawyer appointed for Terri Schiavo. All the time that her fate has been pondered by the courts, he said, she has never had the benefit of legal representation -- which he termed a denial of her due process rights.
"I believe if Ted Bundy got a lawyer, Terri Schiavo should get a lawyer," Gibbs said, referring to the notorious serial killer executed in Florida.
Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed once in 2001, after a court sided with her husband; it was reinserted under another court order two days later. In 2003, the tube was disconnected for six days, but the Florida Legislature passed a law empowering Gov. Jeb Bush to order it replaced.
The law was later ruled unconstitutional.
This week, Florida's Department of Children and Families attempted to intervene in the case, reportedly seeking a 60-day stay while it investigated what it said were allegations of neglect that Terri Schiavo suffered while in her husband's care.
At a rally outside the hospice, Thomas Euteneuer, a Catholic priest from Front Royal, Va., said he felt the campaign to save Schiavo was gaining momentum throughout the country, with the Vatican also getting involved. In a statement read by Euteneuer, Cardinal Renato Martino -- head of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace -- said that bringing about Schiavo's death would be a "grave step" toward legalizing euthanasia in the United States.
Arthur Caplan, chairman of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, said that in more than seven years of hearings and appeals, the courts had always sided with Michael Schiavo as the best spokesman for his wife's interests and wishes.
"Either you believe in the courts and the right of the spouse to make these decisions, or this case basically calls into question every decision about forgoing life support," Caplan said.