A federal judge on Tuesday told the President and Congress of the United States to stay out of private medical tragedies, refusing to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, denying an emergency request from the brain-damaged woman’s parents.
U.S. District Judge James Whittemore said the 41-year-old woman’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, had not established a “substantial likelihood of success” at trial on the merits of their arguments.
Whittemore wrote that Schiavo’s “life and liberty interests” had been protected by Florida courts. Despite “these difficult and time strained circumstances,” he wrote, “this court is constrained to apply the law to the issues before it.”
Rex Sparklin, an attorney with the law firm representing Terri Schiavo’s parents, said lawyers were immediately appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to “save Terri’s life.” That court was already considering an appeal on whether Terri Schiavo’s right to due process had been violated.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, praised the ruling: “What this judge did is protect the freedom of people to make their own end-of-life decisions without the intrusion of politicians.”
Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s brother, said his family was crushed. “To have to see my parents go through this is absolutely barbaric,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. “I’d love for these judges to sit in a room and see this happening as well.”
Whittemore’s decision comes after feverish action by President Bush and Congress on legislation allowing the brain-damaged woman’s contentious case to be reviewed by federal courts.
The tube was disconnected Friday on the orders of a state judge, prompting an extraordinary weekend effort by congressional Republicans to push through unprecedented emergency legislation Monday aimed at keeping her alive.
Gov. Jeb Bush was described by a spokeswoman as “extremely disappointed and saddened” over the judge’s decision not to order the tube reconnected. “Gov. Bush will continue to do what he legally can within his powers to protect Terri Shiavo, a vulnerable person,” said the spokeswoman, Alia Faraj.
Terri Schiavo did not have a living will. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, has fought in courts for years to have the tube removed because he said she would not want to be kept alive artificially and she has no hope for recovery. Her parents contend she responds to them and her condition could improve.
David Gibbs III, the parents’ attorney, argued at a Monday hearing in front of Whittemore that forcing Terri Schiavo to starve would be “a mortal sin” under her Roman Catholic beliefs and urged quick action: “Terri may die as I speak.”
But George Felos, an attorney for Michael Schiavo, argued that keeping the woman alive also violated her rights and noted that the case has been aired thoroughly in state courts.
“Yes, life is sacred,” Felos said, contending that restarting artificial feedings would be against Schiavo’s wishes. “So is liberty, particularly in this country.”
Michael Schiavo said he was outraged that lawmakers and the president intervened in a private matter. “When Terri’s wishes are carried out, it will be her wish. She will be at peace. She will be with the Lord,” he said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” late Monday.
Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly because of a possible potassium imbalance brought on by an eating disorder. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding tube to keep her alive.
Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery, while her parents insist she could recover with treatment. Doctors have said Schiavo could survive one to two weeks without the feeding tube.
According to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 909 adults taken over the weekend, nearly six in 10 people said they think the feeding tube should be removed and felt they would want to remove it for a child or spouse in the same condition.
On Tuesday, reaction to the judge’s decision from the handful of protesters outside the woman’s hospice came quickly. “It’s terrible. They’re going to talk and talk and she’s going to die,” said Miriam Zlotolow, 59, of Venice, Calif.