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Florida judge rejects state custody bid in Schiavo case

Agency alleged new abuses, questions 'vegetative state'

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announcing a new legal filing in the Terri Schiavo case Wednesday.
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Florida Governor Jeb Bush says new information from a neurologist suggests Terri Schiavo may retain some consciousness. (March 23)

The battle lines over Terri Schiavo aren't as clear as they appear.

A federal appeals panel won't order Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted.

A defense attorney explains the federal appeal in the case.
Timeline: Schiavo case

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George W. Bush

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- The state judge who ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube removed last week rejected the latest effort by Florida officials to intervene in the brain-damaged woman's case.

On Thursday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer denied a petition of the state Department of Children and Families and Gov. Jeb Bush to take Schiavo into state custody.

He also denied a petition from the Florida Department of Children and Families to investigate allegations that Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael, abused her.

Such allegations have been considered and dismissed several times in the 15 years that Terri Schiavo has been incapacitated, most recently last week in the Florida Supreme Court.

Greer also rejected an affidavit, submitted by Florida authorities, from a Florida doctor who argued that the brain-damaged woman was not in a persistent vegetative state.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals twice turned down a plea from the parents that would have allowed for a feeding tube to be reinserted Wednesday.

The petition by the Florida Department of Children and Families said a neurologist who examined Schiavo's medical records found she was "most likely in a state of minimal consciousness" rather than the persistent vegetative state previous doctors have diagnosed.

The agency's petition also alleged that 30 "detailed allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation" have been made against Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband and legal guardian, including a failure to provide his wife with adequate therapy.

The motion stated that the agency has a duty to investigate and asked Greer to order Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted.

Schiavo's fate has been the subject of a legal and moral tug-of-war between her husband and her parents, Mary and Bob Schindler, for the past seven years.

Michael Schiavo has said his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive in her current state, but her parents say their daughter would never have said such a thing and that she could improve with treatment.

On Wednesday, Greer barred Florida authorities from removing the brain-damaged woman from the hospice where she lay. He is the same judge who ordered her feeding tube disconnected last week.

The moves were the latest in a dizzying series of legal maneuvers launched at the state and federal levels to prolong Schiavo's life.

Even President Bush, Congress and the U.S. Justice Department got involved. Bush signed a bill passed by Congress on Monday that pushed the issue from state courts to federal courts. And the Justice Department filed three "statements of interest" supporting the parents in each court action.

The president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has vowed to do "everything within my power" to restore Schiavo's feeding tube.

But a federal district court in Tampa and an appeals court in Atlanta have refused to intervene, denying requests by the Schindlers to restore their daughter's feeding tube.

In addition, Wednesday, the Florida Senate rejected 18-21 a bill that would have restored Schiavo's feeding tube. The bill would have prohibited the withdrawal of food and water from any patient in a persistent vegetative state who had not filled out a living will.

By Wednesday afternoon, the governor argued that new information suggests Schiavo's condition might have been misdiagnosed, and that she may not be in a persistent vegetative state after all.

"This new information raises serious concerns and warrants immediate action," Bush told reporters.

Official with Christian bioethics group

In the affidavit filed on behalf of the state, Dr. William Cheshire, a board-certified neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, stated that his review of Schiavo raises "serious doubt" about the current diagnosis. He said she displayed "context-specific" reactions to stimuli, such as upbeat music, colorful objects or the arrival of people into the room.

Although describing some of those responses as "ambiguous," Cheshire wrote, "I could not withhold life-sustaining nutrition from this beautiful lady whose face brightens in the presence of others."

Cheshire said he reviewed Schiavo's medical records, watched videotapes and observed her at the Pinellas Park hospice earlier this month.

But he was unable to directly examine her, Department of Children and Families Secretary Lucy Hadi told reporters.

Cheshire is also director of biotech ethics at the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, a group founded in 1994 to recognize the contribution of "biblical values" to the bioethical debate.

Greer, the Florida judge who made the decisionThursday, has also reviewed medical records and videotapes and, in 2002, rejected arguments put forth by doctors chosen by Schiavo's parents that she was not in a persistent vegetative state.

Three other doctors -- two chosen by Schiavo's husband, Michael, and one chosen by the court -- concluded she was in a persistent vegetative state.

Terri Schiavo suffered profound brain damage in 1990, when her heart stopped temporarily, perhaps because of an eating disorder. Since then, she has been kept alive by round-the-clock care.

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