March 30, 2005
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - In a rare legal victory for Terri Schiavo's parents, a federal appeals court agreed to consider an emergency motion requesting a new hearing on whether to reconnect their severely brain-damaged daughter's feeding tube.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued a written order without comment late Tuesday allowing Bob and Mary Schindler to file the appeal, even though the court had set a March 26 deadline for doing so.
In the one-sentence order, the court said: "The Appellant's emergency motion for leave to file out of time is granted."
The court didn't say when it would decide whether to grant the hearing. Last week, it twice ruled against the Schindlers, who are trying to keep their daughter alive.
In requesting a new hearing, the Schindlers argued that a federal judge in Tampa should have considered the entire state court record and not just the procedural history when he ruled against the parents.
Time was running out for Schiavo, however. Bob Schindler described his daughter as "failing" on Tuesday, her 12th day without nourishment.
"She still looks pretty darn good under the circumstances," Schindler said. "You can see the impact of no food and water for 12 days. Her bodily functions are still working. We still have her."
Doctors have said Schiavo, 41, would probably die within a week or two of the tube being removed. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, insists he is carrying out her wishes by having the feeding tube pulled.
The request for a new hearing also asks to have the tube reinserted immediately "in light of the magnitude of what is at stake and the urgency of the action required."
Tuesday's order was a ray of hope for the Schindlers, who have lost a string of court battles over their daughter's fate. The case has wound its way through six courts for seven years; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene five times.
Protesters keeping a 24-hour vigil outside the hospice praised the latest decision.
"There's a chance for a miracle," said Christine Marriott, 43, who rushed to the hospice after hearing the news on TV. "Anything positive is a breath of life."
Early Wednesday, a man was arrested when he tried to bring a plastic cup of water into the hospice. Police officers stopped him at the gate as he shouted: "You don't know God from Godzilla!"
He became the 48th protester arrested since the feeding tube was removed.
Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed March 18 on a court order sought by her husband, who contends she wouldn't want to be kept alive artificially. She suffered catastrophic brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped for several minutes because of a chemical imbalance apparently brought on by an eating disorder.
But the Schindlers have maintained that their daughter would want to be kept alive. On Tuesday, they asked the appeals court to consider their request for a new hearing based on the seven-year history of evidence in the case, rather than whether previous Florida court rulings have met legal standards under state law.
The Schindlers' attorneys raised the issue after a Saturday deadline set by the court, saying they have had more time to research the issues and have become convinced that the federal court in Tampa had "committed plain error when it reviewed only the state court case and outcome history."
Attorneys for the Schindlers have argued that Terri Schiavo's rights to life and privacy were being violated.
Attorneys for the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo didn't immediately return phone messages early Wednesday.
"I think the courts want to be sure that there's no accusation that any legal argument was ignored," said attorney Neal Sonnett, former chairman of the American Bar Association's criminal justice section.
Federal courts were given jurisdiction to review Schiavo's case after Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life. But federal courts at three levels have rebuffed the family.
On Tuesday, Mary Schindler made a terse but emotional appeal to Michael Schiavo: "Michael and Jodi, you have your own children. Please, please give my child back to me." Michael Schiavo and fiancee Jodi Centonze have two children, born long after Terri Schiavo's collapse.
Although supporters of the Schindlers have claimed the dehydrated woman is being denied comforts such as ice chips for her dry mouth or balm for chapped lips, George Felos, the husband's attorney, defended how Schiavo is being cared for.
"Obviously, the parents and the siblings are desperate. Desperation may lead to different perceptions," Felos told CNN. "I can only tell you what I've seen, and Terri is dying a very peaceful, cared-for death."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed with the Schindlers on Tuesday and joined conservatives in calling for state lawmakers to order her feeding tube reinserted.
The former Democratic presidential candidate was invited by Schiavo's parents to meet with activists outside Schiavo's hospice. His arrival was greeted by some applause and cries of "This is about civil rights!"
"I feel so passionate about this injustice being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube, water, not even ice to be used for her parched lips," he said. "This is a moral issue and it transcends politics and family disputes."
First lady Laura Bush also commented on the case Tuesday, saying the government was right to have intervened on behalf of Schiavo.
"It is a life issue that really does require government to be involved," Bush said aboard a plane bound for Afghanistan, where she was to promote education and women's rights.
On Tuesday, the Schindlers had lost a round in the courts when an appeals court upheld a previous ruling by Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer that blocked the Department of Children and Families from intervening in the case.