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The Battle Over Terri | Valerie Schmalz | Updated February 25, 2005

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Terri Schindler Schiavo has cheated judicially-imposed death twice before and her family is hoping that they will be able to keep her alive even after a Florida judge set March 18th as the day her feeding tube must be removed.

Terri's father Bob Schindler said in a press conference that the ruling is "a temporary relief."

A 48-hour court ordered stay preventing the tube's removal was to end at 5 p.m. Eastern Time Friday.

This is the third time that Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer has given Terri Schiavo's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, the right to remove the abdominal gastric tube that provides her with food and water. Greer said the three-week date would allow the Schindlers "ample time to appeal," CNN News reported.

Michael Schiavo wants the 41-year-old Florida woman’s abdominal feeding tube removed, saying she would not want to live like this.

In issuing a written opinion by fax February 25th, Greer wrote, "The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions. There will always be 'new' issues."

The Schindlers' attorney David Gibbs said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court contending that Schiavo is being denied her religious liberty rights. Pam Hennessy, spokesperson for the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, told IgnatiusInsight that there is also time for the Florida legislature to declare a moratorium on all feeding tube removals statewide when it goes into session in March.

Brain-damaged but able to breathe and make sounds independently, Terri Schiavo has put a face on the debate over euthanasia in the U.S. and this week saw most major newspapers covering her parents’ struggle to keep her alive.

In Rome on Thursday, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said, "If Mr. Schiavo succeeds in legally causing the death of his wife, this not only would be tragic in itself, but it would be a grave step toward the legal approval of euthanasia in the United States."

Terri Schiavo collapsed in 1990 at age 26 and suffered brain damage but her parents say she continues to interact with them. Pope John Paul II declared in March 2004 that removing a feeding tube is "euthanasia by omission" even in the case of patients judged to be in a "persistent vegetative state." The pope himself was hospitalized this week with breathing troubles.

Cardinal Martino added, "I would like to remind everyone in this connection, about all that the Holy Father has said in past days to the Pontifical Academy for Life, confirming that the quality of life is not interpreted as economic success, beauty and physical pleasure, but consists in the supreme dignity of the creature made in the image and likeness of God.

Michael Schiavo lives with another woman, with whom he has two children, and has blocked attempts to spend a $1 million award on rehabilitation therapy for his wife, although hundreds of thousands of dollars of the award have gone toward paying an attorney working to cut off her food and water. That attorney, George Felos, issued a statement from Michael Schiavo after the judge's February 25 ruling that denied any further stays in the case. Michael Schiavo's statement said, "I am very pleased that the Court has recognized there must be a finality to this process. I am hopeful and confident that the appellate court will also agree that Terri's wishes not to be kept alive artificially must now be enforced."

"She smiles, she laughs, she cries. She’s not on any life support except the feeding tube. Her brain cells are working and developing," said Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski, a retired Army chaplain and spiritual advisor to Bob and Mary Schindler, who visits Terri once a week. "The opposition is saying her brain is 100 percent dead. I’ve been seeing Terry now for four years."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not issued an official statement but prolife and Catholic organizations, including Priests for Life and the Catholic Medical Association, have rallied. In addition to the official web-site from Terri's parents – which was down during the last days of this week because of the volume of traffic – www.blogsforterri.com lists hour by hour postings as well as more than 200 blogs that are also following her case.

Five separate on-line petitions aimed at saving Terri Schiavo are posted and Florida’s governor Jeb Bush said his office has received thousands of emails and phone calls urging him to take action. One of those petitions with 100,000 signatures was presented to Bush Friday afternoon in Tallahassee.

"People with deep faith and big hearts are concerned, as I am about the circumstance that Ms. Schiavo is in," the governor said. "I want them to know I will do what I can, but there are limits to what any particular person - irrespective of the title they currently hold - can do."

Former Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry led a series of demonstrations in the neighborhood of Michael Schiavo.

The Catholic Medical Association issued a statement supporting the Schindlers, noting Pope John Paul II’s March 2004 statement. The CMA also cited new neurological studies using magnetic resonance imaging shows greater brain activity even among those severely brain damaged.

The U.S. bishops’ conference so far has left official response to the St. Petersburg, Florida, Bishop Robert Lynch. Lynch issued a statement in October 2003, but calls to his office were referred to the diocesan web-site, which contains a statement saying the diocese is tending to Schiavo’s spiritual needs. Actually, Monsignor Malanowski said, Bishop Lynch has not been involved and no statements have come from Florida’s bishops.

"Disabled Catholics are angry at the Church. We are losing people from the Church because of this. I don’t know why bishops are not willing to take a stronger stand," said Mary Jane Owen, executive director of Disabled Catholics in Action, who said Terri Schiavo’s situation is an example of something that happens regularly under "futile care protocol" followed by hospitals and nursing homes. "The culture of death is very real. It’s very scary to those of us with disabilities."

Michael Schiavo first ordered his wife’s feeding tube removed in 2000; a ruling supported by the judge, who still presides over the case. The tube was removed in 2001 and again in 2003. In 2003, the Florida legislature at the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush passed Terri’s Law, that ordered the tube reinserted after six days of starvation and dehydration. The Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned the law, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the ruling last month. That sent the case back to Pinellas-Pasco County Circuit Court Judge Greer.

Gree’s ruling February 25 lifted the stay on the original order in 2000 allowing removal of Terri Schiavo’s gastric tube, Hennessy said. Still outstanding, she said, is a February 23rd request to intervene by Florida’s protective services agency based on allegations of abuse against Terri Schiavo on a state hotline. A 1991 bone scan of Terri Schiavo found several broken and partly healed bones but it was not released to her parents until 2002.

Related Links:

• John Paul II on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas"

Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.

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