Florida's state House passed a bill today to keep Terri Schiavo alive, but the Senate later defeated a similar measure, casting doubt on a possible compromise one day before the brain-damaged woman's life-sustaining feeding tube is to be removed by court order.
The House bill would block withholding of food and water from patients in a persistent vegetative state who didn't leave a written directive.
The Senate bill, which also could have blocked the court order, would apply only to cases in which families disagreed on the patient's wishes.
The Florida House bill passed 78-37. The Senate bill was rejected 21-16.
The U.S. Congress also was considering legislation to move the case to the federal courts.
In addition, Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer heard a request from the state to stop removal of the tube.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the state has a responsibility to act.
"It breaks my heart we're in a situation where it's possible this woman could starve to death," the governor said.
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would delay removal of Schiavo's feeding tube by moving such a case to federal court. Senate Democrats blocked the legislation, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would try to pass a separate bill.
"If we don't act or if somebody does not act, a living person who has a level of consciousness, who is self-breathing will be starved to death here in the next two weeks," Frist said.
The Florida Legislature's move marked the second time in less than two years the state lawmakers are prepared to intervene in the case.
In 2003, "Terri's Law" enabled Bush to intervene the second time Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. The law later was ruled unconstitutional, however, by the Florida Supreme Court, which said it violated the legal separation between the three branches of government.
Michael Schiavo won a court order in 2000 to have his wife's feeding tube removed, claiming she was in a "persistent vegetative state" and had declared orally she wouldn't want to live in such a condition.
The Schindlers, however, insist their daughter, while severely handicapped, is responsive and demonstrates a strong will to live.
Terri Schiavo is not hooked up to any machines, but she requires the small feeding tube for nourishment and hydration. She collapsed under disputed circumstances Feb. 25, 1990, suffering severe brain damage when her heart stopped momentarily. Michael Schiavo attributes the collapse to an eating disorder, but the Schindlers strongly suspect he tried to strangle her.
The Schindlers have pleaded with Michael Schiavo to divorce their daughter, pointing out he has been living with another woman for 10 years, with whom he has two children.
Florida state Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, the bill's sponsor in the Senate, said the new legislation avoids the constitutional problems found in "Terri's Law" -- violation of separation of powers and that it was retroactive and narrowly applied to Schiavo.
But Michael Schiavo's attorney, well-known "right-to-die" lawyer George Felos, predicted the Supreme Court will strike down this law as well.
"This is purely a knee-jerk response to the growing political clout of the far right, and it's tragic, to say the least, that legislators don't have any concern about the constitutionality of the acts they pass," he told the Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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