Although a judge set the date yesterday for Terri Schiavo’s starvation to commence, supporters of the brain-damaged Florida woman say they are hopeful and plan to work virtually around the clock to spare her life.

Terri Schiavo with her mother in 2001

“By no means is this over,” said Gary McCullough, spokesman for Terri Schiavo’s parents Robert and Mary Schindler, after a decision yesterday by Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer to remove their daughter’s life-sustaining feeding tube March 18 at 1 p.m.

McCullough told WorldNetDaily the Schindlers’ lead attorney, David Gibbs, still sees numerous legal options while pro-life activists are upbeat about a growing wave of popular support nationwide that will fuel rallies, petitions and lobbying of state and federal lawmakers.

Yesterday, Greer denied the Schindlers’ motion for an indefinite stay to pursue medical tests that might prove their daughter could benefit from physical therapy. The judge could have ordered the tube removed immediately, but he allowed an extra three weeks for further appeals.

Terri Schiavo collapsed under disputed circumstances Feb. 25, 1990, suffering severe brain damage when her heart stopped momentarily. Husband Michael Schiavo contends his wife had an eating disorder, and he won a court order in 2000 to remove her feeding tube, arguing she’s in a “persistent vegetative state” and had said she would not want to live in such a condition. But her parents suspect he tried to strangle their daughter, and insist that while mentally handicapped, she recognizes people and responds to stimuli.

McCullough said the Schindlers want to get TV cameras in their daughter’s room at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where she lives, to document that she is not “comatose,” as often has been reported.

McCullough points out, however, that Michael Schiavo keeps tight control of the vistors list and has barred filming and photographing.

“Someone needs to go to Michael and [attorney George] Felos and say, ‘What do you have to hide?” McCullough said.

Previously Michael Schiavo’s team has invoked privacy considerations, but McCullough sees contradictions in that stance.

“They say she’s like a vegetable or plant with no concept of anything, but then they argue she might be embarrassed,” said McCullough. “Then when they want to rush to have the tube removed, they say, “Oh, she’s languishing there and is in pain with each day that goes by.”

Abuse probe?

McCullough said the family is heartened by news Florida’s Department of Children and Families is launching an abuse probe. DCF spokesman Bill Spann said at a hearing before Judge Greer Wednesday that confidentiality laws prevent him from discussing details, but Florida law “provides for the investigation of allegations of abuse of elders, the disabled and other vulnerable adults.”

Yesterday, Greer did not address the DCF’s motion to intervene. However, activist Rev. Pat Mahoney, who is assisting the family, told WND the investigation could become a factor.

“David Gibbs and the family remain optimistic, because, in essence, if neglect or abuse can be proved, the state can come in and take over guardianship,” said Mahoney, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian Defense Coalition.

The Schindlers have filed motions to remove their son-in-law as Terri’s guardian, arguing he is her husband in name only and consistently has sought to withhold care and therapy. Michael Schiavo has been living for 10 years with fiance Jodi Centonze, with whom he has two children, and plans to marry her upon Terri’s death.

Another option for the Schindlers is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on religious liberty grounds, asserting Terri Schiavo’s Catholic beliefs would be violated by invoking her “right to die.”

‘An orderly manner’

In yesterday’s order [pdf file], Greer reasoned that five years had passed since the February 2000 order to remove the feeding tube and the court, “therefore, is no longer comfortable in continuing to grant stays … .”

The judge said the court is “persuaded that no further hearing need be required but that a date and time certain should be established so that last rites and other similar matters can be addressed in an orderly manner.”

Mahoney said he was in Talahassee meeting with state lawmakers preparing a revised version of “Terri’s Law,” the bill that enabled Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene in 2003, the second time Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. The law later was ruled unconstitutional, however, by the Florida Supreme Court.

But the activist said legislators he spoke with are encouraged that they are scheduled to convene 10 days before the March 18 deadline. To pass “Terri’s Law,” they had to call a special session.

Mahoney said he spoke with Jeb Bush’s assistant general counsel, Christa Calmas, who assured him the governor is doing everything within his power to save Terri Schiavo.

“Governor Bush has been very passionate about this,” Mahoney said. “This is a very personal issue with him, it’s not political. It’s not like what I’ve been seeing in D.C. for 12 years, watching politicians put up a finger and see which way the wind is blowing.”

He also points to possible federal legislation, such as a proposal that would bar anyone from removing hydration and nutrition without written consent of the patient.

Nationwide support

Mahoney has been coordinating with like-minded groups on actions and events such as a rally in Tallahassee March 13-16 that aims to draw citizens from across the country.

He’s also inviting people to come March 18 to an around-the-clock prayer vigil at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, where Terri lives.

“There is much going on out there,” Mahoney said, “and clearly the faith-and-values community is being energized.”

The minister noted he was involved in rallying support in the Nancy Cruzan “right to die” case 15 years ago.

“The thing that has struck me as quite extraordinary, is that the Cruzan story largely went under the news radar screen, but now 15 years later, with the advent of Internet bloggers, Internet news services, we have a way to instantly get the news out,” he said.

Mahoney said he’s stunned by the hundreds of thousands of e-mails and all the attention the Schiavo case is getting.

“I have neve been more optimistic about the future of our country as we find ways to get information out and see the country move dramatically to a more values-based position,” he said.

Court documents and other information are posted on the Schindler family website.

Links to all “Terri briefs” regarding the governor’s defense of Terri’s Law are on the Florida Supreme Court website, public information.

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