- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2005

From combined dispatches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A judge yesterday extended a stay keeping Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube in place, saying he needed time to decide whether her parents can prevent her husband from removing the tube and starving his brain-damaged wife to death.

Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer extended until 5 p.m. tomorrow an emergency stay that was to expire yesterday afternoon.

Judge Greer said he needs to decide whether her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, can have more time to determine whether Mrs. Schiavo has greater mental capabilities than previously thought.

The Schindlers also are seeking to have their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, removed as their daughter’s legal guardian.

“We are really elated,” Mr. Schindler said. “Forty-eight hours to us right now seems like six years.”

The Schindlers have been in a long, bitter struggle with Mr. Schiavo, to keep their daughter alive. Mrs. Schiavo collapsed 15 years ago tomorrow, when a chemical imbalance caused her heart to stop beating and cut off oxygen to her brain.

On Tuesday, an appeals court allowed the expiration of a stay that had been the last obstacle keeping Mr. Schiavo from removing his wife’s feeding tube. Judge Greer, however, issued his emergency stay later that day.

Lawyer George Felos, who represents Mr. Schiavo, criticized Judge Greer’s stay.

“We have seen a continuing revolving door of new, frivolous motions. That is abuse of the judicial system. There will always be another motion,” said Mr. Felos, a pioneer in right-to-die litigation and a euthanasia advocate.

The Florida Department of Children & Families moved to intervene in the case yesterday, hours after Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters he was seeking a way to keep Mrs. Schiavo alive.

“I can assure you, I will do whatever I can within the means, within the laws, of our state to protect this woman’s life,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he has received thousands of e-mails and telephone calls from the Schindlers’ supporters.

The Rev. Rob Johansen, a Michigan priest working with the Schindlers, said, “Mary told me that the DCF attorney indicated that their intent to intervene and investigate was based on ‘abuse.’”

Judge Greer denied the DCF lawyer an opportunity to speak at the afternoon hearing, saying he had the papers on his desk but wasn’t sure they had been filed properly.

The agency’s filing remained sealed, and department spokesman Bill Spann said he could not comment on what role the agency sought.

But Mr. Spann said the law allows the agency to investigate accusations of abuse against elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable adults, to determine whether protective action is warranted.

Abuse charges already have been made in the case, based partly on bone scans showing Mrs. Schiavo suffered fractures and statements she made to family and friends that she was unhappy in her marriage.

The charges have been rejected without investigation, and Mr. Schiavo has denied harming his wife.

Father Johansen said it was not clear whether the DCF lawyer’s words in court “referred to the allegations that Terri’s condition is a result of Michael’s abuse of Terri, or to his actions as Terri’s guardian.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Schindler said he and his wife were “very, very thankful that DCF has picked this up.” Their attorney David Gibbs said the Schindlers had not solicited the action and that it came as a surprise to them.

Mr. Felos criticized the DCF move as groundless, saying it “reeks of the intervention of politics into the case and is an affront to the court.”

Some doctors have testified that Mrs. Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope for recovery, but the Schindlers have countered with other medical opinions that she might improve with rehabilitation.

Patients in Mrs. Schiavo’s state have severe brain damage but demonstrate intermittent awareness of their environment. They cannot communicate, follow simple instructions or feed themselves but usually breathe on their own, as Mrs. Schiavo does.

Studies suggest they may retain some degree of cognitive function. Mrs. Schiavo, 41, appears to cry, laugh and react to her family. Her husband has refused for years to allow any rehabilitation efforts.

The Schindlers accuse their son-in-law of standing to gain from his wife’s death, both financially and personally. They have offered to take care of her if Mr. Schiavo, who has had two children with another woman in recent years, would divorce her.

Mr. Schiavo once stood to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars from a medical trust fund if his wife died, but most of that money has been spent on attorneys’ fees.

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