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Judge orders feeding for Florida woman

Two-day stay stops removal of tube keeping Schiavo alive

David Gibbs, attorney for Terri Schiavo's parents, speaks during a hearing in court Wednesday.
Read the documents in the case  (FindLaw)
• Fla. Supreme Court opinion:  Bush v. Schiavo (PDF)external link
Order  Schiavo v. Bush (PDF)external link
Supreme Court
Euthanasia (also includes Assisted Suicide)

(CNN) -- A judge extended a stay keeping a brain-damaged Florida woman attached to a feeding tube by 48 hours Wednesday, just an hour before the order was set to expire.

Pinellas County Circuit Judge George Greer's order followed arguments between lawyers representing Terri Schiavo's husband and her parents. The stay, issued Tuesday, was to have expired at 5 p.m. Wednesday. (Full story)

Meanwhile, the state Department of Children and Families sought to intervene in the case, but Greer refused to consider the agency's petition.

Greer said his extension -- until 5 p.m. Friday -- "would give the court time to determine what the court wished to do in this matter." He said he would notify participants of any decision by fax.

"We're really elated," Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler, told reporters outside the courthouse after the stay was extended. "At least we have 48 hours now before they may try to kill Terri."

Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, argues that she has been ruled to be in a persistent vegetative state and that she previously expressed a wish not to be kept alive artificially.

Schindler and his wife, Mary, say Schiavo could be in a minimally aware state and that her husband, who is living with another woman, may not have their daughter's best interests at heart.

"They are candidly pleading for the very life of their daughter," said David Gibbs, the Schindlers' attorney, who filed a motion seeking to have Michael Schiavo removed as guardian.

Terri Schiavo, 41, has been kept alive through a feeding tube for 15 years, after heart failure resulted in severe brain damage. She is being cared for at a hospice in Florida.

She breathes on her own but needs a feeding tube for nutrition and hydration to stay alive. She isn't terminally ill or comatose.

During arguments before the latest stay was granted, Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, decried the continuing litigation as "an abuse of the judicial system" and "a process where there is no finality."

He said the latest intervention from the Schindlers had no merit, adding, "It's being done strictly for purposes of delay."

But Gibbs argued that medical science has changed since Schiavo was last evaluated medically in 2003, and that she has improved since then.

Specifically, he said, Schiavo could be in a minimally conscious state rather than a persistent vegetative state, and therefore could possibly be helped through therapy.

Felos rejected the suggestion.

"What we're seeing is the continuing and, apparently never-ending, effort to defeat Mrs. Schiavo's constitutional rights."

He argued that the court did not have jurisdiction to order new tests.

He said it was irrelevant whether Michael Schiavo was removed as guardian because any guardian -- even her parents -- would be required to carry out a court order that food and water be withheld from Terri.

Further, recent studies showing improvements among minimally conscious people are not relevant, because Schiavo's brain damage is more profound, Felos said

"The normal brain cortex has become lost; it's not there anymore," he said. He described two EEGs -- measures of brainwave activity -- as "flat."

DCF investigating

Yet another front in the battle was opened late in the afternoon, when the Florida Department of Children and Families presented its petition.

DCF spokesman Bill Spann, citing state confidentiality laws, said he could not discuss the case specifically, but said Florida law "provides for the investigation of allegations of abuse of elders, the disabled and other vulnerable adults."

"DCF has begun an investigation," he said.

Court spokesman Ron Stuart said there was a motion to place the petition under seal.

"No one knows for sure what effect this will have," he said. "That will be up to DCF's attorneys."

Greer, who said he received the petition at 2:28 p.m., dismissed its import.

"I'm not going to consider it," he told the courtroom. "The department can do whatever the department thinks the department needs to do."

Said Felos: "This petition reeks of the intervention of politics in this case."

That prompted an objection from Gibbs: "I object to any characterization of our government, in good faith, coming to this court ... seeking to intervene when there's serious allegations of abuse."

Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters Wednesday that he shared the concerns of Schiavo's parents, "but I cannot go beyond what the law allows."

He added: "If there are good ideas that can be done by the legislature or if the executive has powers we're not aware of, then bring them to me and I will take action."

Outside court, Gibbs said Schiavo still had "a life worth living. We're going to fight to keep this disabled lady alive," he said.

The Schindlers dispute the husband's assertion that their daughter would want to forgo treatment. They also have said that as a Roman Catholic, she would oppose euthanasia, which is against church teachings.

In October 2003, six days after her feeding tube was removed and her condition began to deteriorate, the Florida legislature, at Bush's behest, passed a law giving the governor the power to restore the feeding tube while an independent guardian considered the case.

However, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law, saying it was an unconstitutional intrusion by the executive branch into the powers of the judiciary. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Florida high court's decision. (Full story)

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