A US government appeals court panel refused to order the reinsertion of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, hours after her father said she was weakening and down “to her last hours”.
In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said it had already ruled on most of the issues raised in the latest appeal, and that other issues raised did not apply to the case.
It marked the third time in four days the court had denied an emergency request made by Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.
Doctors have said she would probably die within a week or two of the feeding tube being removed, which was done on March 18 after a judge sided with her husband’s argument that she would not want to be kept alive artificially.
Dehydration has taken its toll on the 41-year-old woman in a Florida hospice, producing flaky skin, dry tongue and lips, and sunken eyes, according to lawyers and friends of the Schindlers.
“Terri is weakening. She’s down to her last hours. Something has to be done and has to be done quick,” said Bob Schindler, who visited his daughter yesterday morning.
After a later visit, he added: “I told her that we’re still fighting for her, and she shouldn’t give up because we’re not. But I think the people who are anxious to see her die are getting their wish.”
The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta was the same court that has ruled against the parents twice this week.
Michael Schiavo’s lawyers argued that the Schindlers had abandoned all pretence of the law and were simply making “a pure emotional appeal”.
Another legal manoeuvre included a late afternoon filing asking Florida’s Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer to order the reinsertion of the tube, claiming Terri Schiavo tried to say: “I want to live” when her tube was removed. The motion said Schiavo was asked to repeat that phrase and responded: “AHHHHH” and “WAAAAAAA.”
Doctors who have examined her for the court case have said her previous utterances weren’t speech, but were involuntary moans consistent with someone in a vegetative state. Greer, who had ordered the tube removed, ended a hearing later yesterday; he is expected to announce a decision by noon today local time.
In the hearing, Schindler lawyer David Gibbs urged Greer to act quickly because he expected “Terri to step into eternity this Easter weekend”. George Felos, the lawyer for her husband, said the belief Terri Schiavo could speak was “crossing the line” into an abuse of the legal system.
US District Judge James Whittemore wrote earlier in the day that the parents could not establish “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of their case. He also noted “the difficulties and heartbreak the parties have endured throughout this lengthy process”.
Florida governor Jeb Bush has been a staunch supporter of the Schindlers and his office was still clinging to hope yesterday that the courts would allow the state to provide emergency care for Schiavo.
“We are continuing to do whatever we can and we are pursuing all the options available to us in this case,” Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said.
But supporters of Michael Schiavo said the time for challenges had ended.
“All the politicians who injected themselves into this tragic and personal matter now need to begin respecting both the law and the legal process even if they disagree with the result that was reached in this case,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida chapter.
Schiavo has been without food and water longer than she was in 2003, when the tube was removed for six days and five hours. It was reinserted when Bush and the legislature pushed through a law that was later thrown out by the state Supreme Court.
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. She left no living will.