- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — The battle over Terri Schiavo at times has played out like a soap opera, but when the Florida Supreme Court hears arguments in the case today, it will be deadly serious stuff.

The brain-damaged woman is at the center of one of the nation’s longest, most bitter right-to-die disputes, which has pitted her husband against her parents.

The question before the court is whether the law that Gov. Jeb Bush signed in October to keep the 40-year-old Mrs. Schiavo alive violates her constitutional right to privacy and the separation of powers between the branches of Florida’s government.

The court’s decision ultimately could determine whether Mrs. Schiavo lives or dies.

It has been more than 14 years since Mrs. Schiavo suffered brain damage when her heart stopped beating, a condition brought on by an eating disorder. She left no written instructions in the event that she became incapacitated.

Mrs. Schiavo can breathe on her own but relies on a feeding tube to live. Some medical experts have declared that she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Her husband, Michael, has argued that she would not want to be kept alive in this way. But her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have disputed that and argued that she someday could regain some of her faculties.

A judge ruled that there was clear and convincing evidence that Mrs. Schiavo would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially, and in October, Michael Schiavo withdrew the feeding tube.

But in a remarkable week of emotion and political activism by her parents’ supporters, Mr. Bush pushed “Terri’s Law” through the legislature and forced the reinsertion of the tube. The law was narrowly drafted to give the governor the authority to issue such an order.

Later, Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird ruled the law wrongly allowed Mr. Bush to intervene in a matter of personal privacy and was improperly used by the governor to override a court decision with which he did not agree. The tube has remained in place.

Today, she will remain in a Clearwater nursing home while lawyers 200 miles away argue over the law. This is the first time that Florida’s Supreme Court has agreed to take up any aspect of the case.

George Felos, Mr. Schiavo’s attorney, has argued that what Mr. Bush has done amounts to force-feeding Mrs. Schiavo. In court filings, Mr. Felos has charged that the governor imposed his will on her, without regard to what she would have wanted.

Mr. Felos said the law violates the separation of powers because Mr. Bush used it to circumvent a properly issued court ruling reached after more than six years of litigation, scores of hearings and an appeals court review.

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