Judge rules to let feeding-tube woman die

A US federal judge yesterday refused to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, denying an emergency request from the brain-damaged woman’s parents.

The ruling by District Judge James Whittemore in Tampa, Florida, came after feverish action by US President George W Bush and the US Congress to introduce legislation allowing her contentious case to be reviewed by federal courts.

The judge said the 41-year-old woman’s parents had not established a “substantial likelihood of success” at trial on the merits of their arguments. He ruled, as other judges have in the past, to allow Ms Schiavo to die.

Ms Schiavo’s parents’ lawyer, Rex Sparklin, said they were immediately appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to “save Terri’s life.”

The tube was disconnected on Friday on the orders of a state judge, prompting an extraordinary weekend effort by congressional Republicans to push through unprecedented emergency legislation early yesterday aimed at keeping her alive.

Ms 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 of recovery.

He rebuffed a recent offer of $1 million (€764,000) from a businessman to keep her alive.

Ms Schiavo’s parents contend she responds to them and her condition could improve.

In the Tampa court last night, David Gibbs, a lawyer for the parents, said that forcing Ms 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, lawyer for husband Michael, argued that keeping her alive also violated her rights and noted the case has been aired thoroughly in state courts.

“Yes, life is sacred,” Mr Felos said, contending that restarting artificial feedings would be against Ms Schiavo’s wishes. “So is liberty, particularly in this country.”

“Every possible issue has been raised and re-raised, litigated and re-litigated,” Mr Felos said. “It’s the elongation of these proceedings that have violated Ms Schiavo’s due process rights.”

The courtroom showdown followed an extraordinary political fight over the weekend. Congress passed a law that let Ms Schiavo’s parents argue their case before a federal court, bringing the intense legal battle to Judge Whittemore’s Tampa courtroom.

Long-time colleagues described Judge Whittemore, 52, as thoughtful, fair and down-to-earth, not the least flamboyant. “He will call it as he sees it. You could not ask for a better or fairer referee,” said Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons.

In his ruling, Judge Whittemore wrote that Ms Schiavo’s “life and liberty interests” had been protected by Florida courts.

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