Terri Schiavo’s parents made a desperate appeal to the US Supreme Court early today, asking justices to order resumption of nourishment for their severely brain-damaged daughter.
In the emergency filing, Bob and Mary Schindler say their 41-year-old daughter faces an unjust and imminent death based on a decision by her husband to remove a feeding tube without strong proof of her consent.
They allege constitutional violations of due process and religious freedom.
The filing also argues that US Congress intended for Schiavo’s tube to be reinserted, at least temporarily, when it passed an extraordinary bill last weekend that gave federal courts authority to fully review her case.
Time is of the essence. Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed last Friday and doctors have said she will die within a week or two at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida.
The filing is seen as a long shot. The Supreme Court has declined other opportunities to get involved in the Schiavo case and legal experts say there is little reason to believe justices will intervene this time.
The Schindlers’ request goes first to Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who has staked a moderate position on social issues. He has the option to act on the petition alone or refer it to the entire court, which he did on the last emergency request involving Schiavo.
There was no immediate word when the Supreme Court might act on the petition.
Today's appeal followed rapid-fire developments in the case, with a federal appeals court refusing to order the reinsertion of Schiavo's feeding tube and the Florida Legislature deciding not to intervene in the epic struggle.
Refusing to give up, Florida governor Jeb Bush, President George Bush’s brother, also sought court permission to take custody of Schiavo, who was on her sixth day without food or water.
The desperate flurry of activity came as President Bush suggested that Congress and the White House had done all they could to keep the woman alive.
Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially and has fought for years with her parents over whether she should be allowed to die.
Supporters of Schiavo’s parents grew increasingly dismayed yesterday and 10 protesters were arrested outside her hospice for trying to bring her water.
“When I close my eyes at night, all I can see is Terri’s face in front of me, dying, starving to death,” Mary Schindler said outside the Pinellas Park hospice.
“Please, someone out there, stop this cruelty. Stop the insanity. Please let my daughter live.”
Schiavo’s tube was removed on Friday afternoon with a Florida judge’s approval. By late Tuesday, her eyes were sunken and her skin, lips and tongue were parched, said Barbara Weller, a lawyer for the Schindlers.
Schiavo 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.
Schiavo’s husband, Michael Schiavo, has argued that his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially, and a state judge has repeatedly ruled in his favour.
The battle played out on several fronts yesterday. A three-judge panel from the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the family and hours later the full court refused to reconsider.
Governor Bush and the state’s social services agency filed a petition in state court to take custody of Schiavo and, presumably, reconnect her feeding tube. It cites new allegations of neglect and challenges Schiavo’s diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state.
The request is based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state who observed Schiavo at her bedside, but did not conduct an examination.
The neurologist, William Cheshire of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organisations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube’s removal.
Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota, a neurologist who was among those who made a previous diagnosis of Schiavo, said “there isn’t a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won’t find her in a vegetative state”.
The long-shot custody request by Bush was made before Judge George Greer, the same judge who has presided over the case for several years and ordered the feeding tube removed last month.
Greer planned to decide by noon today local time on whether the case would go forward. He issued an emergency order yesterday to keep the Department of Children & Families from reconnecting the tube.