Feeding tube is removed:Despite congressional efforts, Fla. woman taken off life support 
By Susan Milligan
WASHINGTON -- Florida doctors yesterday removed the feeding tube that has been keeping Terri Schiavo alive for 15 years, despite the extraordinary, last-minute efforts of Republican congressional leaders to extend her life by summoning the brain-damaged woman to appear before Congress later this month.  

''I am told it was an emotional occasion," accompanied by prayer, said George Felos, a lawyer for Michael Schiavo, the husband who has been battling Terri Schiavo's parents for seven years for the right to remove the tube. ''She has a right to die in peace."

Doctors at Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., removed the feeding tube at 1:45 p.m., complying with a state judge's order that Michael Schiavo's request be carried out. Because Terri Schiavo is still able to breathe on her own, it may take a week for her to die, or several weeks if she is given water but not nourishment.

Unless another court intervenes to order the tube reinserted, the hospice's action spells the end of a bitter series of legal, legislative and family battles over whether to sustain the life of a woman doctors say is in a persistent vegetative state. Schiavo's parents have fought to continue their daughter's life, saying she responds to their presence and that they believe therapy could improve her condition, but Michael Schiavo insists that his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive in such condition.

Appearing on CNN's ''Larry King Live" last night, Michael Schiavo assailed the last-minute moves by Washington political leaders to inject themselves into a private family situation. ''They have to stay out of people's personal lives," said Schiavo.

But appearing later on the program, Terri Schiavo's sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, disputed Michael Schiavo's assertion that her sister would not want to live in her current state. ''We don't believe that Terri had those wishes," she said. ''We know Terri better than he did."

She described her sister as ''a vibrant, fairly healthy woman, except that she's severely brain damaged. We want to get her the help she deserves as a disabled woman."

Terri Schiavo, 41, suffered severe brain damage following complications from a heart attack in 1990. After a tumultuous 12 years that included two previous removals of the feeding tube and a legal back-and-forth involving the Florida courts, US Supreme Court, Florida Legislature and Congress, Florida Circuit Judge George Greer yesterday reaffirmed his Feb. 25 order that the tube could be removed as of 1 p.m. yesterday.

Greer said that last-minute maneuvers by Congress did not invalidate years of court rulings. ''I have had no cogent reason why the [House] committee should intervene."

Earlier in the day, House GOP leaders announced that they were issuing subpoenas for Schiavo, her parents, her doctors, even the medical equipment used to keep Schiavo fed and hydrated. They were ordered to appear at a hearing on March 25 at the Florida hospice. Senior House Republican staffers said they could not recall another time Congress attempted to use its subpoena power to block a court order, but they could not say for sure that the effort was unprecedented.

 ''We have a state court with a judge that has been trying to kill Terri Schiavo for 4 years," House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, said after announcing the subpoenas, issued by the House Committee on Government Reform. Despite Michael Schiavo's description of his wife's wishes, ''in my opinion, the sanctity of life overshadows the sanctity of marriage," DeLay said. 

Late yesterday, the House committee that issued the subpoenas filed an emergency request at the US Supreme Court, asking justices to order the tube reinserted while the committee appeals to have its subpoenas recognized.

The Senate, meanwhile, requested that the Schiavos appear before Congress on March 28, a move that Republican leadership staffers said was designed to prolong Terri Schiavo's life because it is against federal law to tamper with a federal witness.

After the feeding tube was removed, DeLay put out a statement saying members of Congress would continue seeking a ''legal or legislative means to save her life." It was not clear whether the House would press to enforce its subpoenas or take its case to federal court.

An angry Felos called the congressional actions ''disgusting" and said lawmakers were using the ailing woman as a ''pawn in a political football game" to further their careers.

''What we experienced today in the subpoenas issued by the United States House of Representatives is nothing short of thuggery," Felos told reporters after the tube was removed. ''This doesn't seem like members of the United States Congress acting today, but members of Stalin's Politburo."

The Schiavo case evolved from an intense family and medical drama into a political cause for cultural conservatives who twinned the case for Schiavo's life with an antiabortion agenda. President Bush has linked her case to his goal of furthering a ''culture of life" in American law and politics.

Governor Jeb Bush of Florida publicly thanked House Republican leaders yesterday, and dozens of protesters prayed and sang outside Schiavo's hospice yesterday, awaiting the ruling.

In 1992, Michael Schiavo won more than $1 million in a malpractice suit against the doctors who were treating his wife for the eating disorder that led to her heart attack. Her parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, tried the following year to have Michael Schiavo removed as his wife's guardian, but the case was thrown out by a state court.

With Terri Schiavo showing no apparent recovery, Michael Schiavo first sought to have his wife's feeding tube removed in 1998. Twice, his request was approved and the tube was withdrawn, but both times opponents succeeded in getting the tube reinserted.

The second time, in 2003, the Florida Legislature passed a law ordering the tube reinserted, but it was struck down by the state's Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court refused in January to hear the state's appeal. This week, the Legislature attempted to override Greer's Feb. 25 order, with a House passing a bill but the Senate rejecting a similar one.

Federal lawmakers opposed to removing the tube approved legislation to allow her case to be heard in federal court. But the House and Senate approved different bills and legislators then left town for a 17-day Easter recess, so President Bush had no bill before him to sign before the tube was scheduled to be removed.

The House bill would allow any case like Schiavo's to be heard in federal court, while the Senate bill would apply only to her case. Gregg Bloch, a Georgetown Law School professor, called the Senate bill ''flagrantly unconstitutional" because it gives one specific citizen, Schiavo, jurisdictional rights not afforded to everyone else.

DeLay said that House and Senate negotiators would continue to work on compromise legislation, which the majority leader said he hoped could be passed during a special session on Monday.

He blasted Michael Schiavo for having a relationship with another woman and called his lawyer, Felos, ''the personification of evil." Of Terri Schiavo, DeLay said: ''She doesn't need to die, and as long as Terri Schiavo can breathe and her supporters can pray, we will not rest."

Watch Terri Communicate With Her Mother
(Real Player video)

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