Coma woman court ruling imminent, says lawyer

A lawyer for the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the centre of a life-or-death legal battle, says he expects a court ruling today.

A lawyer for the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the centre of a life-or-death legal battle, says he expects a court ruling today.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, Florida, warning that Terri was “fading quickly” and might die at any moment, her parents begged the federal appeals court to order her feeding tube to be reinserted.

A lawyer for parents Bob and Mary Schindler said in a court filing yesterday that the 41-year-old woman might die before they could get a chance to fully argue their case that her rights were being violated. The appeal came after a federal judge in Tampa rejected the parents’ emergency request.

“Where, as in this case, death is imminent, it is hard to imagine more critical and exigent circumstances,” lawyer David Gibbs said in the appeal filed electronically with the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

“Terri is fading quickly and her parents reasonably fear that her death is imminent.”

The appeals court did not indicate when it might rule, but George Felos, the lawyer for Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, told the Associated Press that he expected a decision before daybreak today, local time.

Even before the parents’ appeal was filed, Michael Schiavo urged the 11th Circuit not to grant an emergency request to restore nutrition.

“That would be a horrific intrusion upon Mrs Schiavo’s personal liberty,” Felos said in the filing. He filed a response to the Schindlers’ appeal and said he would go to the US Supreme Court if the tube was ordered reconnected.

The Schindlers have been locked for years in a battle with Schiavo’s husband over whether her feeding tube should be disconnected. State courts have sided with Michael Schiavo, who insists his wife told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially.

Late yesterday afternoon, the Schindlers arrived at the hospice and Terri’s mother again pleaded with state lawmakers to save her daughter’s life.

“Please, senators, for the love of God, I’m begging you, don’t let my daughter die of thirst,” Mary Schindler said.

With that, she broke down and was escorted away.

In court documents, the couple said their daughter began ”a significant decline” late on Monday. Her eyes were sunken and dark, and her lips and face were dry.

“While she still made eye contact with me when I spoke to her, she was becoming increasingly lethargic,” Bob Schindler said in the papers. “Terri no longer attempted to verbalise back to me when I spoke to her.”

The feeding tube was disconnected on Friday. Doctors have said Terri Schiavo could survive one to two weeks without water and nutrients.

Louise Cleary, a spokeswoman at Woodside Hospice, said she could not discuss Terri Schiavo’s condition for reasons of privacy.

Over the weekend, Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation aimed at prolonging Schiavo’s life by allowing the case to be reviewed by federal courts.

However, early yesterday, US District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa rejected the parents’ emergency request under that legislation to have the tube reconnected, saying they had not established that they would probably prevail at a trial on their claim that Terri Schiavo’s religious and due process rights had been violated.

Bobby Schindler, her brother, said his family ws crushed.

“To have to see my parents go through this is absolutely barbaric,” he said on ABC’s Good Morning America. ”I’d love for these judges to sit in a room and see this happening as well.”

By mid-afternoon, about 75 protesters gathered outside the hospice, virtually all of them upset with Whittemore’s decision. They carried signs and shouted through bullhorns and a Catholic Mass was celebrated. One woman was arrested for trespassing after trying to bring Schiavo a cup of water.

Among those supporting the federal judge’s decision was Richard Avant, who lives down the street from the hospice and carried a sign reading: “Honour her wishes.”

“We represent the silent majority, if you look at the polls,” Avant said. “We agree that Congress overstepped their bounds.”

The Bush administration “would have preferred a different ruling” from the federal judge, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the president was visiting a senior centre. “We hope that they would be able to have relief through the appeals process.”

The US Justice Department also filed a court statement, saying an injunction was “plainly warranted” to carry out the wishes of Congress to provide federal court jurisdiction over the case.

Unless the feeding tube is reinserted, the department said, Schiavo may die before the courts can resolve her family’s claims. “No comparable harm will be caused” by letting Schiavo live while the case is reviewed, the filing said.

Terri suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Her parents argue that she could get better and that she would never have wanted to be cut off from food and water.

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