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A bitter legal dispute over the law that allowed Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to halt the starvation death of a brain-disabled woman will move directly to the state’s high court, bypassing lower court review.
In a 4-to-3 vote, the Florida Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to decide the constitutionality of “Terri’s Law,” which the state Legislature passed in emergency session last October. The quickly approved statute authorized Bush to have Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted six days after its removal by order of her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, who is her legal guardian.
Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, said the high court’s decision to detour the Second District Court of Appeal could shorten the appeal process by as much as 10 months.
“We’re very pleased,” said Felos. “This case is not just about Terri Schiavo. This law has a chilling effect over Floridians making end-of-life choices for their loved ones.”
Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for the governor, commented, “We look forward to making our case to the Supreme Court as to why the Legislature and the governor should partner with the courts in protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”
Bush’s attorneys had attempted to keep the case out of the Supreme Court at this time, since there are disputed questions that must be settled at trial. In a separate motion they asked the appeal court to place a stay on the case until it’s determined if Schiavo should continue as Terri’s guardian.
The court’s decision to assume jurisdiction of the controversial case is the latest action in the ongoing battle being fought in the Florida courts between Schiavo and his inlaws, Robert and Mary Schindler, over whether, as Terri’s guardian, he has a right to starve his wife to death by removing her feeding tube.
As WorldNetDaily has reported, Terri collapsed under suspicious circumstances in February 1990 at the age of 26. Oxygen to her brain was cut off for several minutes, leaving her severely brain-disabled and dependent upon a feeding tube for sustenance.
Michael Schiavo – who has lived at least 10 years with another woman, Jodi Centonze, with whom he’s had two children – says his 40-year-old wife told him before her collapse that she’d never want to be kept alive “through artificial means.” Four years ago he convinced Pinellas County Probate Judge George Greer to allow him to remove her feeding tube, claiming she is in a “persistent vegetative state” from which she’ll never recover – a requirement under Florida law for denying food and fluids to a person who isn’t terminally ill.
Terri responding to her mother from video clip on Terrisfight.org
Terri’s parents reject their son-in-law’s assertions, including his recollection that their daughter indicated such end-of-life wishes before her collapse. They insist she is not in a vegetative state and that despite her severe brain injury Terri responds to them and her surroundings and tries to talk.
Through a series of legal maneuvers the Schindlers have managed to keep the case and Terri alive. However, their options appeared to have run out last June when the Second District Court of Appeal made a final ruling in Schiavo’s favor and the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
The disabled woman suffered six days without nourishment or hydration, an ordeal ended only when the Legislature passed Terri’s Law and the governor ordered her feeding resumed, an action immediately challenged by Felos and the American Civil Liberties Union, which jumped in on Schiavo’s side.
On May 6, Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird handed Schiavo a victory by ruling Terri’s Law unconstitutional since it allowed the governor to circumvent a court order, thereby violating the separation-of-powers between the branches of government established by the Florida Constitution.
Using arguments developed by Felos, Baird also held the law infringes Terri’s constitutionally protected right to privacy, which includes the right to make one’s own medical decisions free of government intrusion.
The measure “in every instance, ignores the existence of this right and authorizes the governor to act according to his personal discretion,” Baird wrote.
The fact that Terri is incapacitated and cannot make her wishes known, and a judge has ruled she’s in a persistent vegetative state, doesn’t mean she hasn’t a right to privacy, he explained.
Bush’s attorney, Ken Connor, immediately appealed Baird’s ruling and also notified the court of the existence of an automatic stay which prevents Schiavo from acting on the ruling during the appeal process – that is, on removing Terri’s feeding tube.
“Compelling state interests”
The day after Baird issued his order the governor’s office held a telephonic press conference, giving Connor an opportunity to field questions from reporters across the country.
“… make no mistake, the governor believes very, very strongly that this statute is constitutional and there are a variety of compelling state interests here, the first is the protection of innocent life,” Connor declared.
Others interests are protection of health care and desires of the person, the protection of “the innocent handicapped who are not in a position to speak for themselves,” and last – “the protection of the medical profession to ensure that they aren’t duped by some potentially unwitting or unscrupulous person who wants to bring about the demise of a frail and vulnerable person.”
“The governor is of the view and has asserted this all along, that the courts do not have a monopoly on protecting the rights of the frail and the disabled,” Connor said.
“… we think [the statute] adds an extra layer of protection to ensure that the health-care choices of this frail, vulnerable person who never wrote down what her intentions were would be respected and protected,” he said.
On June 2, Schiavo and his attorney scored again when the appeal court moved to put the case on the fast track and send it straight to the Florida Supreme Court, agreeing with Felos that the ruling was a matter of “great public importance [that] has a great effect upon the proper administration of justice throughout the state” and deserved “immediate attention.”
The state Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Aug. 31.
The date could be significant. County and district judicial elections will be held throughout Florida. Ten incumbent judges, among them Judge George Greer, are facing challenges at the polls.
Information, including court documents, are posted on the Schindler family website.