The U.S. Supreme Court turned aside the case of Terri Schiavo on Thursday, dimming her parents’ hope of keeping her alive, while religious activists made a final appeal to Gov. Jeb Bush to defy the courts and intervene.
“I can’t go beyond what my [legal] powers are, and I’m not going to,” said a frustrated Bush, who expressed sympathy for Schiavo’s family.
Schiavo’s condition deteriorated visibly seven days after her feeding tube was removed by court order. Death was expected within a few days.
Mary Schindler visited her daughter early Thursday and left in tears. Terri Schiavo “looked like she just got out of Auschwitz,” antiabortion activist Randall Terry said her sister told him.
The brother of Schiavo’s husband disagreed, telling CNN that she “does look a little withdrawn” but insisting she was not in pain. “I’m sure you saw all the video of her before she had the tube removed,” Brian Schiavo said. “She didn’t look all that well.”
George J. Felos, the lawyer for Terri Schiavo’s husband, said Michael Schiavo was saddened by the protracted legal maneuvering but “very grateful” for Thursday’s court action.
Bush’s tone of resignation sparked anger and disappointment among protesters standing vigil outside the hospice where Schiavo was being cared for. Terry, who has been advising the Schindlers, said “there will be hell to pay” if the politicians whom religious conservatives had helped elect let Schiavo die.
The high court did not explain its decision to turn aside the case, just as it had declined to do in four previous appeals. None of the justices registered a dissent.
That action was followed by rulings Thursday from Pinellas County Circuit Judge George W. Greer, who barred the state from trying to take custody of Schiavo, 41, and reaffirmed that she would not want to be kept alive through artificial means.
In 1990, a potassium imbalance brought on by an eating disorder caused Schiavo to have a heart attack, which cut off oxygen to her brain. She has been in what doctors say is a persistent vegetative state ever since. Schiavo can breathe on her own, but cannot eat or drink.
For seven years, Schiavo’s husband and parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have waged a court battle over her care.
The Schindlers maintain that her condition could improve.
But in 2000, Greer sided with Michael Schiavo and issued his first order to remove Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. The tube has since been removed and reinserted twice, after court challenges.
Greer issued a detailed account Thursday of why he felt his original finding remained valid. He said no treatment breakthroughs had occurred that would offer Schiavo any quality-of-life improvements.
Bush appealed that decision to the U.S. 2nd District Court.
The Florida Supreme Court later refused to hear an appeal of an injunction Greer issued Wednesday that blocked the state from taking temporary custody of Schiavo. State law allows the Department of Children and Families to act in emergency situations of adult abuse.
The department again petitioned Greer on Thursday, seeking custody of Schiavo. The judge had not scheduled a hearing, but he indicated one could occur Monday, Bush’s office said.
Outside the Woodside Hospice, about 100 protesters prayed for Schiavo’s rescue as the Schindlers made another plea to a federal district court judge. They asked that her feeding tube be reinserted while they pursued claims that Schiavo’s religious and due-process rights were violated. U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore, who previously rejected a similar request, said he would work overnight to issue a new ruling.
While the day’s legal arguments were being made, the dying woman’s sister and brother made short visits to her room.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bobby Schindler said as he shuttled between the hospice and a thrift shop across the street, where his family had taken refuge to avoid Michael Schiavo. “Every minute that goes by is a minute that Terri is being starved and dehydrated to death.”
The drama surrounding Terri Schiavo has played out against a political backdrop.
Congress last weekend interrupted its spring recess to push through a law that allowed the Schindlers to take their case through the federal court system after they had exhausted all avenues in the state courts. President Bush, the governor’s brother, returned to the White House from his Texas ranch to sign the legislation in the predawn hours Monday.
But polls show that about two-thirds of Americans say the government should stay out of such personal matters as end-of-life decisions.
The protesters outside the Woodside Hospice appealed Thursday to Gov. Bush to disregard the rulings of more than two dozen state and federal judges over the last seven years and take custody of Schiavo by force.
“There’s a constitutional crisis looming in the state of Florida,” said the Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington. “The question is, will Gov. Bush allow a district court judge to tell him how to run his state?”
Terry accused the governor and the Department of Children and Families of raising the Schindlers’ hopes of rescuing their daughter, only to cave in to “a runaway judiciary.”
By evening, the crowd at the hospice had grown to about 150.
“There seems to be no justice in the justice system forthcoming,” said Paul Reese, from Carlisle, Pa.
“It’s still the duty of the governor of the state to see that the laws are upheld,” Reese said. “The Constitution of the state of Florida guarantees the life of all innocent people."*
Williams reported from Pinellas Park, Fla., and Savage from Washington.