Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - A probate judge in Florida Thursday delayed setting the date to remove the "feeding tube" that keeps Terri Schindler Schiavo alive. Pinellas-Pasco, Fla., Circuit Judge George Greer listened to three hours of oral argument before telling attorneys for Terri's parents and her husband that he will not rule until next week.
It was expected to be the last hearing in the five-year court battle by Michael Schiavo to end his wife's life by depriving her of nutrition and hydration. Schiavo first petitioned the court to remove Terri's gastrostomy or "g-tube" in 1998 after winning a $1.2 million medical malpractice judgment against her former physician. Terri's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, have opposed Schiavo's attempts to starve their daughter to death.
Pat Anderson, one of the attorneys for the Schindler family, told Greer that Terri should receive therapy to help her swallow on her own if the g-tube is removed.
"The court must give her a chance to transition to nutrition by mouth," Anderson said, adding that Terri "has never been given the chance to get better. She's been treated as if she's already dead."
Anderson's co-counsel, Celia Bachman, pointed to Florida law in an attempt to convince Greer that he is obligated to give Terri that chance. Title 46, Chapter 825, Section 102 (3)(a) of the Florida Criminal Statutes states that the crime of "neglect of an elderly person or disabled adult" occurs as the result of:
"A caregiver's failure or omission to provide an elderly person or disabled adult with the care, supervision and services necessary to maintain the elderly person's or disabled adult's physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the elderly person or disabled adult."
Pamela Hennessy, spokeswoman for the Schindler family, explained the strategy.
"If he is willing to withdraw Terri's feeding tube without giving her a reasonable avenue to sustain herself otherwise, such as via mouth eating food, then he's actually acting contrary to Florida statutes," Hennessy told CNSNews.com.
Anderson also submitted sworn affidavits from two speech pathologists who believe Terri could benefit from speech therapy. One said the vocalizations observed in response to Terri's parents and others talking to Terri were "clear and purposeful" efforts to communicate. Anderson argued that Terri should receive that therapy.
"Then Terri could tell you herself what she wants," Anderson said. "She hasn't had that chance in 13 years."
Terri Schindler Schiavo collapsed under questionable circumstances in 1990 and suffered a brain injury due to oxygen deprivation. Some doctors have testified that the collapse was caused by a potassium imbalance, while other medical professionals have noted what they believe are signs of a physical assault or abuse.
Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, has called allegations against his client "hogwash" and denied that Schiavo has ever done anything other than try to carry out his incapacitated wife's alleged wishes. There is no written record of Terri's alleged desire not to be kept alive apart from her own means and ability. The court's acceptance of that claim is based on oral testimony offered by Michael Schiavo and two of his relatives.
Although Schiavo did not attend the hearing, Felos did ask that Terri's g-tube be removed at 5 p.m. Thursday, a request that drew audible gasps from spectators in the courtroom and was denied by Greer. Felos expressed his disappointment after the hearing.
"There is no purpose for the delay," Felos told the Orlando Sentinel. "It was her [Terri's] wish not to be kept alive artificially."
The Schindlers have also filed a federal lawsuit against Schiavo, Felos and two nursing facilities where Terri was kept in the past, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Terri's civil rights under the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments.
Felos accused the Schindlers of trying to subvert the Florida justice system.
"The purpose of this lawsuit is to invalidate the lower court's decision," Felos told the Tampa Tribune on Sept 2.
See Earlier Story:
Disabled Woman Would Cry 'Help Me,' Caregivers Claim (Sept. 3, 2003)
E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.