Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A federal judge refused yesterday to restore Terri Schiavo’s feeding tubes, prompting the parents of the brain-damaged woman to take their case immediately to an appeals court.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore ruled against reinserting the feeding tube, which was removed Friday under a state court order pursued by Mrs. Schiavo’s husband, Michael. Judge Whittemore said state courts have handled the case sufficiently.

“Theresa Schiavo’s life and liberty interests were adequately protected by the extensive process provided in the state courts,” he said.

The decision prompted an outcry from Republicans in Washington, who tried to prolong Mrs. Schiavo’s life by passing a federal law Monday, requiring federal courts to take the case from Florida’s state judges.

“We would have preferred a different ruling,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday morning. “We continue to stand on the side of defending life.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he was “deeply disappointed by today’s court decision that denies Terri Schiavo another chance to live.”

“It is a sad day for all Americans who value the sanctity of life,” he said.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said, “It is our hope that the appeals court will rule differently.”

Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, argued before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta yesterday that they had not been able to fully develop their case before Judge Whittemore made “what will be a final adjudication of the merit in light of Terri’s imminent death.”

In their brief, they said their daughter — who was in her fourth day without food or water yesterday — is “fading quickly.”

Mr. Schiavo, meanwhile, asked the circuit court to reject the appeal or — if they order the feeding tube back in — not to do so until he has had time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mrs. Schiavo, who suffered cardiac arrest and brain damage in 1990 but can breathe on her own, has long been the subject of a bitter legal battle in Florida courts between Mr. Schiavo and the Schindlers. Although Florida courts have ruled she is in a permanent vegetative state, some doctors disagree and say she could improve with therapy.

Doctors, nurses, lawyers, politicians and advocates from both sides of the debate took to the airwaves in the past 24 hours to make their case.

In a Fox News interview yesterday, a registered nurse who cared for Mrs. Schiavo from 1995 to 1996, said the patient at that time was aware of her surroundings, could say a few words and interacted with the staff.

“Her cognitive abilities included laughing, talking, letting you know she was in pain,” Carla Sauer Iyer said yesterday, adding that Mrs. Schiavo could say words like “mommy,” “help me,” “hi” and “pain.”

The nurse recounted an instance in which she put a washcloth in Mrs. Schiavo’s hand to test her reflexes, and Mr. Schiavo got upset and said, “That’s therapy — take that washcloth out.”

Mr. Schiavo and some Democrats and liberal activists have berated Mr. Bush and Congress for intervening into personal matters they know nothing about.

“I think it’s outrageous, and I think that every person in this country should be scared,” Mr. Schiavo said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Monday night. “This is what Terri wanted, and this is what it’s been found that Terri wanted.”

“Both Congress and the president needlessly prolonged this tragic saga,” said the Florida branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

A poll conducted from Friday to Sunday by Atlanta-based Strategic Vision found that 64 percent of voters in Florida disapproved of the federal government’s action.

Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube has been removed and then reinserted twice before, in the midst of conflicting legal wranglings.

The Florida legislature intervened in 2003 and is trying to do so again, but last week, the Florida Senate rejected a proposal. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been working to change votes.

Mr. Frist sent the president’s brother a letter yesterday encouraging those efforts.

“Given the uncertain judicial outcome of this case, currently pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, it is all the more important that the Florida legislature act expeditiously on Terri’s behalf,” Mr. Frist said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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