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Schiavo’s faith not relevant in life-and-death case, judge rules

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)–Terri Schiavo supporters were dealt another setback when the judiciary turned down Oct. 22 another request for rehearing in the case of the 40-year-old disabled woman.

Pinellas Circuit Judge George W. Greer in Clearwater dismissed a new argument that Terri, a practicing Roman Catholic, would want to adhere to a newly publicized teaching by the pope that the removal of a feeding tube is against church teachings, and its removal would violate her right to religious freedom.

In a statement made last March, 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.

The 40-year-old disabled woman at the center of the legal debate, Terri Schiavo, has been in what some doctors consider a persistent vegetative state since 1990 when she collapsed under suspicious circumstances in her home. Her husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, who has 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 their daughter has not received the rehabilitation and care she requires. Their attorneys have unsuccessfully filed motions on their behalf and the behalf of Terri Schiavo’s siblings challenging Michael Schiavo’s guardianship and asking to be able to care for Terri themselves.

Greer’s latest ruling was issued with an emergency that that will expire at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 6. The ruling gives the Schindlers until then to appeal the motion.

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.

The Florida Supreme Court Oct. 21 declined a request for a re-hearing in the case about the constitutionality of the law allowing Terri to live.

Without comment, the seven justices declined a request from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to reconsider their Sept. 23 decision in which they overturned Terri’s Law.

In that decision, the high court ruled that a law allowing the governor to order the resumption of Schiavo’s feeding and hydration tube was unconstitutional.

“We are disappointed with the ruling and are reviewing our legal options,” Jill Bratina, Bush’s spokeswoman, told the Associated Press.

Moments after the announcement was made, Ken Connor, the governor’s attorney, said Bush would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Connor told the Tampa Tribune that the governor will ask the high court to restore the balance of power between Florida’s judicial branch and the legislative and executive branches of government.

In an Oct. 4 motion requesting a re-hearing, the governor’s lawyers argued that 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.”

George Felos, Michael Schiavo’s attorney, told the Tribune that Greer gave the Schindlers too much time to seek an appeal and said the delay “serves no constructive purpose whatsoever.”

Greer, in his ruling, cited an earlier opinion from the 2nd district Court of Appeal that Terri Schiavo “did not regularly attend Mass or have a religious advisor who could assist the court in weighing her religious attitude about life support.”

Last Novemeber, the Schindlers told the Witness the court never asked anyone but her husband, Michael, who did not share her religious beliefs, about Terri’s views on religion or about her church attendance. They maintain she attended Mass regularly with them but was afraid to tell her husband, who they alleged ridiculed her beliefs.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan