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Jeb Bush asks Fla. high court for rehearing in Schiavo case

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–Florida Gov. Jeb Bush filed a motion Oct. 4 asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider its Sept. 23 ruling in which the justices said a law allowing the governor to order the resumption of Terri Schiavo’s feeding and hydration tube was unconstitutional.

The 17-page motion said the high court’s decision had incorrectly assumed Bush’s actions were unconstitutional, had not allowed him “due process” in exploring information that had been presented to lower courts, and had incorrectly applied an analysis of the separation of powers that could eventually “throw the operation of state government into disarray.”

“The Florida Legislature has passed numerous laws giving governors broad discretion in specific circumstances,” Bush said in a written statement. “The Court’s ruling could call those laws into question, and may limit the Legislature’s ability to govern.”

At issue, the motion asserted, is the fundamental responsibility of the government to protect the disabled.

“The protection of vulnerable persons with disabilities requires that all three branches remain vigilant in defense of their rights,” Bush’s motion read.

Bush’s communications director, Jill Bratina, told Focus on the Family that the governor was seeking the court’s clarification in the interest of all of Florida’s citizens.

“In life and death issues the governor feels that we always need to err on the side of life,” Bratina told the Colorado-based group. “And that’s what the law that the Legislature passed allowed to happen.”

The 40-year-old disabled woman at the center of the legal debate, Terri Schiavo, has been in and out of nursing homes and hospice care since she collapsed in 1990 for what was blamed on a potassium imbalance. With her heart stopped, her brain was deprived of oxygen and she became severely disabled. Some doctors refer to her condition as a “persistent vegetative state,” while others have said that if rehabilitation had been made available to her, she might have improved.

Her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, who has since fathered two children with his live-in girlfriend, has sought the removal of his wife’s feeding tube for nearly a decade.

Terri Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have long maintained that their daughter has not received the rehabilitation and care she requires. Their attorneys have unsuccessfully filed motions on their behalf and on behalf of Terri Schiavo’s siblings challenging Michael Schiavo’s guardianship and asking for the ability to take care of Terri themselves.

The case received international attention last year when the Florida legislature passed a measure allowing Gov. Bush to intervene after Terri’s feeding tube was removed by order of Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer. It was the second time Terri’s feeding tube had been removed as the result of a court order. Michael Schiavo filed suit, alleging the governor’s actions were unconstitutional. The Schindlers were not granted standing in Michael Schiavo’s case against the governor.

In the Oct. 4 motion, Ken Connor, Bush’s lead attorney, said rules of constitutional construction are premised on the assumption that “the legislature and the Governor know and understand the nature and limits of their constitutional authority.” Bush’s intervention then would be appropriate as he looks to enforcement of the law, Connor argues.

In addition, the motion states that there are “other unproven assertions” in the opinion which mirror language in lower court decisions not “supported by competent facts in the record,” in cases the governor was not a party to. Examples of those statements, the motion argues, are that “Terri and Michael were ‘happily married,’ that Terri’s cardiac arrest was ‘a result of potassium imbalance,’ that Terri has no ‘cognition or awareness,’ that ‘[M]edicine cannot cure this condition,’ that Terri is ‘unconscious’ and ‘reflexive’; and that there is ‘no hope of a medical cure.’”

Michael Schiavo’s attorneys have until Oct. 11 to respond.

In related news, lawyers for the Schindlers filed a new 28-page memorandum Sept. 30 with Greer outlining a new argument based on information that Terri, a Roman Catholic, would want to adhere to the pope’s latest teaching — therefore any removal of her feeding tube would be in violation of her right to religious freedom.

The Schindler lawyers note that, given the overwhelming evidence of Terri’s life-long faith and devotion to Catholicism, she would never willingly defy the Church’s teaching.

In a March statement, Pope John Paul II condemned the removal of a feeding tube of a patient in a “persistent vegetative state,” while at the same time decrying the classification of a human being as a “vegetable” in any description.

Long-time Schindler attorney Pat Anderson withdrew from the case just before the hearing, turning the matter over to David Gibbs III, a religious liberty attorney who has worked previously with Anderson and is on the board of directors for the Christian Law Association. Gibbs appeared on Larry King Live with the Schindlers Sept. 28.

“I am reclaiming my life,” Anderson told the St. Petersburg Times. “It’s just time to leave. I’ve done my part shoving that rock up the hill. Maybe I’ll be able to finally sleep through the night without waking up at 3 a.m. remembering some detail.”

George Felos, Michael Schiavo’s attorney, said the Pope’s words are not an official religious pronouncement banning the removal of feeding tubes, according to the Times.

Greer has not yet issued any new rulings related to the matter.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan