Florida’s social services agency and Republican state lawmakers acted on two fronts Wednesday to block the March 18 removal of a feeding tube for a woman at the center of a contentious right-to-die case.
The Department of Children & Families sought to intervene in the case to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect by Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael, while Republican lawmakers crafted a bill requiring that incapacitated people be given water and nutrition unless a living will directs otherwise.
Lawyers for the children and families agency told Judge George W. Greer that it wanted as much as a 60-day delay in the removal of the feeding tube to investigate the abuse allegations.
Agency supervisor Susan McPhee testified that the accusations included denying the severely brain-damaged woman some medical treatment and therapy, and isolating her in her room with the blinds closed.
“This is a heightened situation because we are talking about the life of Terri Schiavo,” agency attorney Kelly McKibben said.
Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, argued that the Department of Children & Families had no legal right to interfere and Greer had no jurisdiction to allow it.
He said he believed the agency’s last-minute attempt was politically motivated, especially since dozens of previous complaints to the agency failed to yield any evidence of abuse.
The agency “is simply acting as an arm of the executive branch to try to undo a court order they don’t like,” Felos told reporters.
Greer said he would rule on the state agency’s request as early as today.
Also Wednesday, Greer denied two motions by the woman’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. One asked for new medical tests to determine if the 41-year-old woman had more brain activity than previously thought. The other asked that the order allowing removal of the woman’s feeding tube be thrown out because the judge mistakenly discounted the testimony of a witness during a trial to determine Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life wishes.
Michael Schiavo contends his wife, who collapsed 15 years ago, suffered severe brain damage and would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents say she has no such death wish.
In Tallahassee, a House committee approved a bill requiring doctors to provide nutrition and hydration to incapacitated patients who didn’t leave an advance directive. It passed 7-4 on a party-line vote and needed approval from two more committees before facing the full House.
The bill’s backers intend for it to apply to the Schiavo case, if passed.
Critics, including physicians groups and the Florida Bar Assn., say family members are in the best position to determine the wishes of those who are unable to speak for themselves.