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The Florida Supreme Court today struck down “Terri’s Law,” the emergency statute that allowed Gov. Jeb Bush to halt the starvation death of brain-injured Terri Schindler-Schiavo last fall.
Passed by the Legislature in October, “Terri’s Law” gave the governor authority to order the reinsertion of the disabled woman’s feeding tube, which had been removed six days earlier in compliance with a court order.
The seven justices were not asked to decide if Terri should live or die, but whether the measure violated provisions enshrined in Florida’s Constitution.
It was the first time the high court had agreed to consider any aspect of the contentious case, which began in 1998 when Terri’s estranged husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, sought permission from the court to withdraw the feeding tube his incapacitated wife needs to receive food and water. His intentions were challenged by Robert and Mary Schindler, Terri’s parents, and the two sides have been at loggerheads ever since. The high court heard oral arguments last month.
Today’s 7-0 decision struck down the law, saying it violated the separation of powers between the judicial branch and the legislative and executive branches.
“It is without question an invasion of the authority of the judicial branch for the Legislature to pass a law that allows the executive branch to interfere with the final judicial determination in a case,” Chief Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the court.
“That is precisely what occurred here and for that reason the Act is unconstitutional as applied to Theresa Schiavo.”
The court says the law improperly delegates legislative power to the governor, who had complete power under the law to decide when to issue a stay and when to lift the stay.
“This absolute unfettered discretion to decide whether to issue and then when to lift a stay makes the governor’s decision virtually unreviewable,” Pariente wrote.
“The decision is very troubling and extremely disappointing,” said Jay Sekulow, lead counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents the Schindlers.
“The Florida Supreme Court has in effect issued a death sentence for Terri Schiavo – a flawed decision that ignores the constitutional authority given to the governor and to the legislature in crafting and enacting this law. It is both disturbing and tragic that the state’s highest court would declare unconstitutional the only measure keeping Terri alive. We are now examining all remedies available to ensure that Terri’s life is not ended.”
As WorldNetDaily has reported, Terri suffered severe brain damage in 1990, when she collapsed under questionable circumstances in the St. Petersburg apartment where she lived with her husband. For reasons never satisfactorily explained, oxygen to her brain was cut off for several minutes, leaving her severely brain-disabled, unable to talk, and dependent upon a feeding tube for sustenance.
Terri left no written instructions detailing what she would want if she were ever incapacitated, and is unable to communicate whether she would prefer being fed though a feeding tube or starved to death. But since 1998 Schiavo has insisted his wife, whom he refuses to divorce, told him before her collapse that she would never want to live “by artificial means.”
During a weeklong trial in Jan. 2000, Schiavo persuaded probate Judge George Greer that Terri is in a “persistent vegetative state,” or PVS, which under Florida law allows a feeding tube withdrawn from a non-terminally ill person.
Florida law also allows simple oral statements, recalled by friends and family members years after they’re allegedly made, to be considered “clear and convincing” evidence of a person’s wishes. Schiavo convinced the judge that his version of his wife’s wishes was correct.
Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and her siblings dispute Michaels contentions. They claim that Terri is alert, has a strong will to live, and could be rehabilitated with therapy. Over a dozen physicians, therapists, and speech pathologists agree with the parents. The Schindlers also maintain that Schiavo’s interests are conflicted since he has lived with another woman for at least nine years with whom he has had two children.
Through a series of legal maneuvers Terri’s parents managed to keep the case and their daughter alive, but their options appeared to have run out last year when the 2nd District Court of Appeal made a final ruling in Schiavo’s favor and the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Last October, the brain-disabled woman suffered six days without food and water before state lawmakers, in response to enormous public outcry, passed “Terri’s Law” and Bush was able to order her feeding tube reinserted. His action was immediately challenged by Schiavo and attorney George Felos, with the American Civil Liberties Union jumping in on Schiavo’s side as co-plaintiff.
Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird overturned Terri’s Law in May, ruling that the law is unconstitutional in that it allowed the governor to override a court decision he didn’t agree with and to intervene in a private medical matter. Bush appealed the decision, and the case went directly to the high court.
Schinlder attorney Pat Anderson told the Associated Press she wouldn’t say what she thought would happen next in the case.
“I don’t make predictions in this case,” she said. “I just keep rolling the rock up the hill.”
Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler family website.
Links to all “Terri briefs” are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.