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Fla. judge ignores subpoenas, gives go-ahead for Schiavo feeding tube removal


PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (BP)–Florida Judge George Greer gave the go-ahead for the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube Friday, dashing hopes of supporters who had hoped congressional subpoenas would sway the judge. It was not known when the tube might be removed.

Greer made his decision during a conference call with congressional lawyers and lawyers for both Michael Schiavo — Terri’s legal husband — and Terri’s parents. The ruling is being appealed.

Earlier Friday, congressional leaders had issued a series of subpoenas with the goal of keeping the 41-year-old disabled woman’s tube in place. A Senate committee issued a subpoena for Schiavo herself to appear in Washington. The subpoena, from Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, called for Schiavo and her legal husband, Michael Schiavo, to appear March 28 before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. A statement from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the hearing would “review health care policies and practices relevant to the care of non-ambulatory persons such as Mrs. Schiavo.”

Terri Schiavo’s case has captured the nation’s attention in recent weeks, with President Bush even weighing in. For years her parents and her husband have been in a legal struggle over whether she should live or die. While Michael Schiavo says she would not want to live in her present state, no written request exists. Meanwhile, he has lived with his girlfriend, with whom he has fathered two children. Her parents say she has the capacity to swallow and could learn to eat food orally.

Congressional leaders had hoped the subpoena would Schiavo alive until they could reach agreement on a bill. The House and Senate both have passed bills, although the bills differ in their approach.

“The Senate and the House remain dedicated to saving Terri Schiavo’s life,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in a statement Friday. “While discussions over possible legislative remedies continue, the Senate and the House are taking action to keep her alive in the interim.”

In that same statement Frist said the subpoena would provide legal protections for Terri Schiavo.

“Federal criminal law protects witnesses called before official Congressional committee proceedings from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness’ attendance or testimony,” he said in the statement. “More specifically, the law protects a witness from anyone who — by threats, force, or by any threatening letter or communication –influences, obstructs, or impedes an inquiry or investigation by Congress. Anyone who violates this law is subject to criminal fines and imprisonment.”

A House committee also issued a subpoena early Friday — this one aimed at Schiavo’s doctors and hospice workers. The House Government Reform Committee issued orders to the doctors and workers not to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube, the Associated Press reported.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet again Monday. Political action seems to be the only recourse for Schiavo’s supporters. The U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday again declined to get involved in the case.

The Friday subpoenas capped a busy day Thursday that saw the Florida legislature fail to pass a Schiavo-related bill. The Florida House passed a bill but the state Senate failed to do so.

Meanwhile, the issue in Washington was finding uncommon agreement from Democrats and Republicans. The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday afternoon, one day after the House passed a bill of its own.

The Senate’s bill targets only Schiavo and would allow a federal court to give a complete review of her case. It passed by voice vote with broad support from both parties. The House version of the bill is much broader.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R.-Fla., is the Senate sponsor.

“By voting for this bill we will simply be allowing a federal judge to give one last review, one last look, in a case that has so many questions,” Martinez said on the floor.

The House of Representatives stepped into the case Wednesday evening by passing a bill that would go further than the Senate bill by applying to all persons in Schiavo’s condition. But the House version failed Thursday to pass on unanimous consent in the Senate. A Democratic member objected, killing hope for passage by that parliamentary method.

It is unclear whether the House can take up the Senate-backed bill, known as a private relief bill. In a floor speech Wednesday, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R.-Wis., said Schiavo “would be dead before we could consider” the private relief bill. He said House rules allow consideration of private bills only on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, which, in either case, apparently would be long after her feeding tube had been disconnected.

President Bush weighed in on the matter Thursday, releasing a statement indicating he would sign a bill.

“Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life,” Bush said. “Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected — and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, voted for the Senate version and said he favors an even broader bill that would protect all persons in Schiavo’s condition. He said he wants the Senate “to fashion some kind of legislation that will give people of disabilities the ability to take one last look at their case before the plug is pulled.”

Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., also spoke out strongly in favor of the bill.

“Terri Schiavo has done one thing wrong — she didn’t have a living will,” Santorum said. “But the Florida courts gave her a death sentence. They said that her feeding tube and hydration would be removed until she is dead.”
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  • Michael Foust