Schiavo 'fading fast' as parents pin hopes on Supreme Court

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With both time and legal options running out, the parents of Terri Schiavo are pinning their hopes of saving her life on the United States Supreme Court, after the Florida state legislature last night rejected a bill that would have reconnected their daughter's feeding tube.

With both time and legal options running out, the parents of Terri Schiavo are pinning their hopes of saving her life on the United States Supreme Court, after the Florida state legislature last night rejected a bill that would have reconnected their daughter's feeding tube.

The new setback came just hours after a federal appeals court in Atlanta turned down for a second time the demand of Bob and Mary Schindler for an injunction to restore the tube. But even as the Florida senate voted down the measure by 21 to 18, Florida Governor Jeb Bush was leading a new legal effort to have Ms Schiavo, 41, taken into state custody. If successful, this would have the effect of putting her back on life support, at least temporarily.

However, the main focus of an ever more frantic and confusing legal battle was shifting back to Washington, where an appeal was being prepared before the Supreme Court. But despite intense national attention in the case, and the public efforts of the Bush administration to save Ms Schiavo, it was far from certain that the country's highest court would become involved.

Twice already in the lengthy legal battle over her fate, the Supreme Court has declined to take up the case, on the ground that it lay within the purview of the state courts, which had thoroughly examined it.

It is now six days since Ms Schiavo was taken off the tube through which she receives food and water. Doctors say that unless it is reinstated, she is unlikely to survive more than a week or 10 days. "Her tongue is swelling, her eyes are sunken, she is dying," a lawyer for the Schindlers said yesterday, after visiting her in the Woodside hospice in Las Pinellas, near Tampa, where she is being cared for.

Earlier, outside the hospice where Ms Schiavo is being cared for, a dozen demonstrators, including three boys, were arrested as they tried to take glasses of water inside for her.

Her mother added her own heartfelt plea: "When I close my eyes, all I see is Terri's face in front of me, dying, starving to death," a distressed Mary Schindler said after visiting the hospice. "Someone out there, please stop this cruelty and this insanity, please let my daughter live."

In another move, Mr Bush and the head of Florida's social services agency, have filed a petition with a state court seeking to take custody of Ms Schiavo.

It cites new allegations of neglect, and disputes the conventional diagnosis that she is in "a persistent vegetative state." A state neurologist now contends that her condition is a "state of minimal consciousness".

Almost as Mr Bush was speaking, the Schindlers were suffering a second major defeat in federal court inside one day. After a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal sided with a federal district judge in Tampa, the full 12-judge court followed suit, by an overwhelming margin of 10 to 2.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush, Jeb's brother, repeated his support for the Schindlers in this "extraordinary and sad case", but made clear that the White House could do no more. Congress, too, which on Sunday passed emergency legislation permitting the family to take the case to the federal court system, has indicated it will not intervene again.

A factor in this reluctance is the broad public backing for Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, who insists that she would want to be disconnected and allowed to die in dignity. An ABC poll showed that two-thirds of Americans feel the same.

The courts, too, have consistently upheld that view. In its initial 2-1 majority ruling, the Atlanta appeals panel acknowledged "the absolute tragedy that has befallen Ms Schiavo".

But, it went on: "We are called upon to make a collective, objective decision concerning an issue of law."

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