- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

Florida’s role in keeping alive a woman in a persistent vegetative state ended yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate a Florida law, passed with Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s backing, to keep Terri Schiavo connected to a feeding tube.

Some other legal cases brought by Mrs. Schiavo’s parents still are pending, and a stay currently in place would have to be dissolved before steps could be taken “to permit starving Terri to death,” said Ken Connor, a Virginia-based lawyer who represented Mr. Bush in the case.

“If this decision is allowed to stand, Terri Schiavo will die from starvation and dehydration pursuant to the equivalent of a judicial death warrant,” Mr. Connor said yesterday.

George J. Felos, a Florida lawyer who represented Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband and guardian who wants the feeding tube removed, said that “this effectively ends the governor’s interference in this case.

“It means that the decision by the Florida Supreme Court — that this law was unconstitutional — still stands,” he said.

The case now goes back to state Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer, who already has ruled that Mr. Schiavo can remove his wife’s feeding tube.

“Terri’s Law,” the 2003 statute that the high court yesterday refused to reactivate, was enacted by the state legislature and signed by Mr. Bush nearly a week after Judge Greer ruled that Mr. Schiavo can remove his wife’s feeding tube.

Feeding resumed, but a unanimous decision last fall by the Florida Supreme Court found the new law unconstitutional.

Florida’s highest court said that once any court has issued a decree regarding the care and treatment of an incompetent person, neither the legislative nor the executive branch can take independent steps on behalf of that person.

Mr. Bush appealed the Florida Supreme Court ruling in December, but the Supreme Court rejected him without comment yesterday.

“The case is at an end for the governor,” Mr. Connor said. “Courts have long recognized states’ compelling interest in protecting the handicapped … so this is a very sobering and troubling result for handicapped Floridians, and for handicapped people all over the country.”

Mrs. Schiavo, 41, went into a persistent vegetative state in 1990 after her heart temporarily stopped beating. She can breathe on her own, but she depends on a feeding tube to stay alive, as she cannot swallow. As long as she can get food and water, Mrs. Schiavo is in no danger of dying.

Mrs. Schiavo’s father, Robert Schindler, has insinuated that his son-in-law put her into a coma. Mr. Schindler and his wife, Mary, argued in a court filing that Mr. Schiavo is trying to rush his wife’s death, so he can inherit her estate or her insurance and marry another woman by whom he already has had two children.

Mr. Felos vigorously denies the money accusations, saying that “all the money is gone, and there is no insurance.”

Issues still in dispute, which are to be resolved in other filings by the Schindlers, include whether Mrs. Schiavo is in a vegetative state with no chance of recovery and whether she previously indicated she did not want machines to keep alive by machines. Another will examine whether she was denied the right of independent counsel.

Mrs. Schiavo left no living will or any other written directive, but her husband has said she told him privately that she did not want to live hooked up to machines.

In another development yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to consider whether states may offer license plates with messages such as “Choose Life.”

By denying certiorari, the Supreme Court left lower courts divided on whether such programs in a dozen states represent an unconstitutional restriction of dissenting views.

Without comment, the high court let stand a lower-court decision that said South Carolina’s license plates, which bear the phrase “Choose Life,” violate the First Amendment because pro-choice advocates were not given a similar forum.

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