The bitter battle over the fate of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who has been in a coma for 15 years, took an unexpected turn yesterday when a businessman from California offered $1m (£550,000) to her husband if he would change his mind about unplugging her from life support as early as next week.
The intervention by Robert Herring, who founded an electronics company and a satellite television business, is only the most recent twist in a struggle over the fate of Mrs Schiavo that has lasted seven years. On Thursday a Florida judge rejected a request by the state's social services agency for a 60-day delay before the removal of the woman's feeding tube, due next Friday.
As Mrs Schiavo lies in her hospital bed in Tampa in what doctors describe as a persistent vegetative state, her relatives continue to fight in the courts over her condition. On one side is her husband, Michael Schiavo, who wants her removed from life support and on the other her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, who are trying to stop that.
Directly involved in what has become America's most high-profile, right-to-die dispute is Florida's Governor, Jeb Bush, who has sided with the parents in arguing that their daughter should be kept alive, in spite of the unlikelihood she will recover consciousness.
A resident of San Diego, Mr Herring has set a Monday deadline for Mr Schiavo to accept the million dollars in cash, offered on condition that he hand over all responsibility for his wife's future care to her parents. He said he felt "compelled to act" as the day for the unplugging of Mrs Schiavo approaches.
"I believe very strongly there are medical advances happening around the globe that very shortly could have a positive impact on Terri's condition," he said. "I have seen miraculous recoveries occur through the use of stem cells in patients suffering a variety of conditions."
A lawyer for Mr Herring, Gloria Allred, said he "thinks there might be hope for Terri Schiavo and wonders why there is a rush to death, especially in view of the advances being made in medical research. He feels that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't make this offer".
Judge Paul Greer in Tampa had just rejected the request from the social services agency to delay action on unplugging Mrs Schiavo for two months to allow for an investigation into allegations of cruelty and negligence on his part.
Governor Bush reacted angrily to the ruling, saying he could not understand how the agency could be turned down. "There's a law that says if the hot-line is called and there's a warranted need for an investigation that there ought be an investigation."
Judge Greer said that the allegations of negligence had already been proved to be false. Governor Bush pushed a new law in 2003 that authorised him to force the hospital to resume feeding of Mrs Schiavo six days after her feeding-tube had been removed. The law was later ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
Mrs Schiavo has been in a non-responsive state since 1990 when she slipped into unconsciousness because of chemical imbalance in her brain that may have been triggered by an eating disorder. Her husband insists she once said to him that in such a circumstance she would not want to be kept alive artificially.
There was no word last night from Mr Schiavo, who faces an extraordinary dilemma. If he takes the money, he must give up the quest he has followed for years to allow his wife to die. But if he refuses it, the courts could again intervene to frustrate his wishes.
Two cases are still being pursued by his wife's parents before the state's Court of Appeals that has promised to issue its rulings next week. The couple also still hope for new laws to help them from the state legislature and the US Congress.