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Supreme Court declines to intervene in Schiavo case

PINELLAS PARK, Fla.—Terri Schiavo's tenuous grasp on life weakened Thursday as the last glimmers of a judicial reprieve slipped away from her parents and their supporters.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against them, they lost additional rounds in state court, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and other state officials didn't follow through on threats to take the brain-damaged Florida woman into protective custody and reconnect her feeding tube.

Schiavo, the focus of an emotional controversy over issues of life and death, entered her seventh day without food or water.

"She's dying. She's in her death process," said George Felos, the attorney for Schiavo's husband, Michael. Michael Schiavo has said that his wife is in a persistent vegetative state and should be allowed to die after spending most of the last 15 years on life support.

Felos said Schiavo, 41, was receiving the best care possible, under the circumstances. He said her husband is at her bedside and that she'll be allowed "to die with dignity and die in peace."

"Terri is peaceful," he said. "She's resting comfortably."

Lawyers for Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, continued to seek a legal opening, desperately filing appeals in one court after another. They maintain that Schiavo is responsive and that water and food should be restored.

"We will keep it moving," attorney David Gibbs III said of the legal fight.

But Randall Terry, a family spokesman, acknowledged that the situation was grim.

"We're obviously at a place where her life is hanging by a thread," he said. "We're talking about minutes and hours actually meaning something right now."

Another family spokesman, the Rev. Paul O'Donnell, said Schiavo is showing symptoms of dehydration.

"Her cheeks are sinking in," O'Donnell said. "The bones around the eyes are becoming more prevalent. Her skin is dry. Her mouth is dry. She is very, very weak. It has been so long that, at any time, she can go into kidney failure and die."

Of the parents, Terry said: "They're very emotional. They have hope one minute, then despair. Hope, then despair."

The Supreme Court didn't explain its 9-0 decision not to intervene in the case, announced in a one-sentence order released in Washington.

The Schindlers' attorney promptly filed an amended motion with U.S. District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa, who's already ruled against the parents. The motion is framed around the opinion of a doctor who didn't fully examine Schiavo but who recently told state officials that she may be "minimally conscious" rather than in a vegetative state.

"It is based on change in medical circumstance ... ," Gibbs said. "She is healthy. She wants to live. And she is being starved to death."

At the same time, Florida Circuit Judge George Greer of Clearwater said an effort by Bush and the state Department of Children and Families to gain custody of Schiavo "appears to be brought for the purpose of circumventing the court's final judgment and order" to remove the tube. He denied the request for a hearing on the matter.

Late Wednesday, Greer issued a temporary injunction prohibiting such an act. He reinforced that order Thursday, taking a swipe at the governor.

"The Court ruled that the executive and judicial branches of government are separate but equal and that the executive branch is not superior in the area of judicial matters," Greer wrote.

Felos said that should end all talk of placing Schiavo under state control and reconnecting the tube.

"The only way I can contemplate Governor Bush or state officials taking Terri Schiavo from the hospice is if they kidnap her—period," he said.

Outside the Hospice Home Woodside, where Schiavo resides, protesters monitored developments.

"It appears every legal option has been exhausted," the Rev. Pat Mahoney told them.

"Governor Bush is now the only practical option for Terri's survival," Mahoney said over his megaphone, telling protesters to steel themselves for further setbacks. "You need to prepare your hearts."

Kelly Moore, 42, broke down in tears. "God bless you, sister," Mahoney said. "It's going to be OK."

Terry, the spokesman for Schiavo's parents and the former leader of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, threatened political retribution on those who didn't support them.

"I promise you, if she dies, there's going to be hell to pay with pro-life, pro-family, Republican people of various legislative levels, both statewide and federally, who have used pro-life, pro-family, conservative rhetoric to get into power, and then when they have the power, they refuse to use it," he said.

The hostility also shifted toward the governor. Increasingly, supporters of Schiavo's parents decried what they called Bush's unwillingness to act independently of the courts.

"Do you think there's anyone here who doesn't feel let down?" Terry said. "He can still redeem himself and his memory on this planet for generations to come if he intervenes."

With tempers flaring, the Florida Bar came to the defense of the judiciary.

"It is in times like these that we should recognize that our judges, on a daily basis and not just in high-profile cases, have the duty and responsibility to protect the rights and liberties afforded to all of us by law," the Bar said in a statement.

"Judges have no control over which cases come before them and they will inevitably be involved in deciding difficult and unpopular cases. When presiding over a case, judges make rulings based solely on the Constitution and other laws, and not their own feelings or personal beliefs."

The White House and lawmakers weighed in, too.

"The president is saddened by the latest ruling," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "When there is a complex case such as this, where serious questions have been raised, the president believes we ought to err on the side of life."

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who helped engineer legislation ordering a federal court review of the case, said he was "truly disappointed" by the Supreme Court decision, but he suggested that the struggle now end.

"I believe strongly in our democracy and that we are a nation of laws," he said. "And as disappointed as I am ... I believe that we must accept the finality of the Supreme Court's decision that there will be no ... review."

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(Long, Bolstad and Merzer report for The Miami Herald. Long reported from Tampa, Fla., Bolstadt from Pinellas Park and Merzer from Miami. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Noah Bierman, Lesley Clark and Nancy San Martin of The Miami Herald in Washington also contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050324 Schiavo poll

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