The parents of Terri Schiavo asked a judge to reinsert their brain-damaged daughter’s feeding tube today, following an extraordinary political fight that consumed both chambers of Congress and prompted the US president to rush back to the White House.
A lawyer for Mrs Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, went to a federal district court in Tampa, Florida, and filed a request for an emergency injunction to keep their daughter fed.
When the lawyer, David Gibbs , was asked if he had any indication when the judge would rule on the request, he said: “I have no way to know, just that it’s in the hands of the court.”
It was assigned to District Judge James Whittemore, who was nominated to the court in 1999 by then president Bill Clinton.
Gibbs said the judge sent a message that he would call the Schindlers’ lawyers back to court once he completed a review of the filings in the case.
Earlier this morning, the House of Representatives in Washington, following a move by the Senate, passed a bill to let the parents ask a federal judge to prolong Mrs Schiavo’s life by reinserting her feeding tube. President Bush signed the measure less than an hour later.
Her husband, Michael Schiavo, said he was outraged that politicians and the president were intervening in the contentious right-to-die battle.
He has fought for years with his wife’s parents over whether she should be permitted to die or kept alive through the feeding tube.
“This is a sad day for Terri. But I’ll tell you what: It’s also is a sad day for everyone in this country because the United States government is going to come in and trample all over your personal, family matters,” he said.
The lawsuit alleges a series of rights violations, including that Terri Schiavo’s religious beliefs were being infringed upon, that the removal of the feeding tube violated her rights and that she was not provided an independent lawyer to represent her interests.
Outside the hospice in Pinellas Park where his daughter entered her fourth day without food or water, Bob Schindler said: “I’m numb, I’m just totally numb. This whole thing, it’s hard to believe it.”
A shout of joy was heard from the crowd outside the hospice when news of the House bill’s passage came. Among those cheering was David Bayly, 45,: “I’m overjoyed to see the vote and see Terri’s life extended by whatever amount God gives her.”
When dawn broke today, fewer than a dozen demonstrators remained at the hospice, but the area bustled with television lights, cameras and reporters covering the saga.
The 41-year-old woman’s feeding tube was removed on Friday on a Florida judge’s order. She could linger for one or two weeks if the tube is not reinserted – as has happened twice before, once on a judge’s order and once after Florida state Governor Jeb Bush signed “Terri’s Law”, which was later declared unconstitutional.
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. Her husband says she would not want to be kept alive in that condition, but her parents insist she could recover with treatment.
Bob Schindler visited his daughter last night and said he noticed the effects of dehydration on her.
He said she appeared to be getting tired, but eventually responded to his teasing by making a face at him. “It tells us she’s still with us,” he said.
Brian Schiavo, Michael’s brother, said he spent Sunday afternoon with his brother and Terri at the hospice, but Terri did not move or make any noises. “Anybody that thinks that she talks and responds, they need to have a mental health examination,” he said.
The bill passed in Congress applies only to Schiavo and would allow a federal court to review the case.
The House passed the bill on a 203-58 vote after calling politicians back for a rare emergency Sunday session. The Senate approved the bill yesterday by voice vote. President Bush cut short a visit to his Texas ranch to return to the White House.