With crowds cheering wildly, an ambulance took Terri Schindler-Schiavo from the Pinellas Park, Fla., hospice to a nearby hospital, where, on orders from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, she was re-connected to a feeding tube to rehydrate her after six days of court-ordered starvation.
With only a few hours remaining before she sliped beyond the point where she could be saved, Florida lawmakers delivered to the governor legislation empowering him to order Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted and Bush signed and implemented the life-saving law two hours later. Schiavo is being rehydrated and fed at Morton Plant Hospital.
The surprise intervention came on the seventh day of Terri’s judge-ordered starvation, at the request of her husband, Michael Schiavo, who has insisted he was carrying out his wife’s wishes.
Gov. Jeb Bush
“Like the tens of thousands of Floridians who have raised their voices in support of Terri Schiavo’s right to live, I have been deeply moved by these tragic circumstances,” Bush said in a statement. “I understand the limitations cited by the judges who have declined to hear the later stages of this case. However, any life or death decision should be made only after careful consideration of all related facts and conditions. For that reason, I appreciate the extraordinary action of the legislature today, and will use the discretion they have granted regarding the restoration of nutrition and water to Terri Schiavo.”
“I’m not playing God,” he said earlier in the day, deflecting reporters’ criticism.
Meanwhile, Michael Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, vowed to sue anyone who reinserted the feeding tube, reports local television station WFTS.
Influenced by a massive and sustained outpouring of support for the 39-year-old brain-disabled woman, lawmakers threw a legislative “Hail-Mary” pass to move the emotionally charged case out of the judicial arena and into the hands of the state’s chief executive.
This afternoon, the state Senate voted 23-15 in favor of a bill to authorize the governor’s intervention.
The Senate passage of S 12 E follows similar action by state representatives late last night who voted 68-23 in favor of H35-E, known as Terri’s Bill.
Introduced by Republicans John Stargel in the House and Daniel Webster in the Senate, the legislation “authorizes the Governor to issue a one-time stay to prevent withholding of nutrition and hydration under certain circumstances; provides for expiration of stay; authorizes governor to lift stay under certain circumstances; provides that person is not civilly liable and is not subject to regulatory or disciplinary sanctions for taking action in compliance with any such stay.”
Earlier today, Terri’s supporters feared the Senate, which was originally not scheduled to vote on the matter until tonight, was dragging its feet in an attempt to run out the clock.
“They’re just playing with her life,” Pamela Hennessey, spokesperson for Terri’s family, told WorldNetDaily. “They’re arguing over bill language and deliberately letting her die.”
Sources on hand for the Senate debate, however, tell WorldNetDaily lawmakers wrestled with the language of the legislation and reworked it in an attempted end-run around an injunction filed by right-to-die attorney Felos to block any order by Bush.
Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer denied the injunction on technical grounds because the request was filed before the law hit Bush’s desk. But Greer said Felos could refile the request.
Felos called the legislation “absurdly unconstitutional” and maintains Terri has a right under the Florida Constitution to not be kept alive artificially.
“The fight is no longer about Terri. It’s about the rights of every one of us to control our own lives. It’s about whether your choices will be honored by the courts of this land. It’s about whether the governor and the legislature have the right to tell you what your medical treatment decisions should be,” Felos said in a press conference following the Senate vote.
Senate supporters had to win over staunch foes, namely
Senate President Jim King, a Republican representing the northeast Florida coast area and Jacksonville, who expressed reservations over intervening in a case already vetted by the courts.
Fla. Senate President Jim King
But citing “unique and unusual circumstances,” King signed off on what he considers a narrowly drafted measure that still delivered what House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and Bush wanted, the Tampa Tribune reported.
“If we are going to err, then let us err on the side of caution,” the paper quoted King as saying. “I just hope to God we’ve done the right thing.”
The amended Senate bill then went back to the House, which minutes later approved it 73-24.
News of the vote prompted cheers from a crowd of about 80 protesters keeping vigil outside the Pinellas Park, Fla., hospice where Terri has been a patient for three years.
“The screaming and crying and singing and praying! It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Christine Brundage, a retired registered nurse who handles the correspondence for the Schindler family, told WorldNetDaily.
Suzanne Carr, Terri’s sister, called the development “a miracle, an absolute miracle” as their mother broke down crying, according to the Associated Press.
“We’re not home yet, but we’re damn near there,” Bob Schindler, Terri’s father told AP.
Last night’s House action occurred just hours after the Tallahasse-based Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities filed for an injunction to keep Schiavo alive to have time to investigate whether removal of her life-sustaining feeding tube was an act of abuse by her husband, according to an Associated Press report.
Schiavo – who lives with another woman with whom he has a child and another on the way – cut off all access to Terri’s therapy and claims he only is fulfilling wishes expressed before she suffered a sudden collapse in 1990 under mysterious circumstances.
The Schindlers, who maintain a website on their daughter’s case, say they have evidence Terri was physically attacked prior to her mysterious collapse and reject the notion she wants to die.
Terri responding to her mother in video clip available on terrisfight.org
Gordon Scott, an attorney for the advocacy group, asked for a 10-day injunction to provide time for an investigation after he had conversations with the Schindlers and a neurologist. Scott said he is not convinced Terri is in a “persistent vegetative state” as claimed by Michael Schiavo and his advocates.
Judge Greer agreed to that assessment, however, and ordered the feeding tube removed Oct. 15.
Scott also believes, contrary to Michael Schiavo’s claims, Terri is feeling pain from the starvation and dehydration.
The Schindler family said Terri appears to be in stable condition. Terri’s brother, Bob Schindler Jr., visited her this morning and reported she was alert but incredibly shrunken – the effects of six days of dehydration taking their toll.
Last week, two separate state courts rejected a motion to have the tube re-inserted so law enforcement could investigate the case.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly of the Catholic Medical Association passed a resolution at its annual meeting Friday that summarizes the view of many advocates of the Schindler family.
It declared removal of Terri’s feeding tube “without first undertaking rehabilitation therapy to ascertain her ability to swallow and digest nourishment” constitutes “depriving her of life without due process of law,” according to Florida Statutes Section 744, 3211.
In his statement, Gov. Bush said the case was a warning for everyone.
“The conflict among family members over the best interests of this young woman has made us all acutely aware that uncertainty in these situations can, and does, compound the tragedy,” he said. “I hope all Floridians, and any others who have followed this case, will ensure their best interests are clearly documented in a living will or other directive to spare their families a similar anguish.”
Updates and other information about Terri’s fight for life are posted on the family’s website.