TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Last-ditch efforts to block the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube foundered Thursday as courts rebuffed her parents' appeals and lawmakers failed to agree on legislation to intervene in the contentious battle to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive.
Under court order, the feeding tube was set to be removed at 1 p.m. today, in what could be the final act in the long-running right-to-die drama.
The Florida House passed a bill 78-37 to block the withholding of food and water from patients in a persistent vegetative state who did not leave specific instructions regarding their care. But hours later, the Senate defeated a different measure 21-16, and one of the nine Republicans voting against indicated that any further votes would be futile.
"As far as we're concerned we don't want anything to change the existing law," Sen. Jim King said.
The U.S. House and Senate passed competing bills but it was unclear whether a compromise could be reached. State courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, rejected attempts by Schiavo's parents and the state to postpone the removal of her feeding tube.
"Everything is a longshot," said David Gibbs, attorney for Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.
Gibbs said late Thursday that he would ask a federal judge in a habeas corpus filing today in Tampa to block the removal and review the actions of state courts. Such appeals are most commonly used in death penalty cases when legal appeals have been exhausted. They require the government to justify its actions.
"We are going to ask him to issue a stay because in this case, state action would be used to end the life of an innocent, disabled woman," Gibbs said.
The Florida attorney general's office usually defends the state against habeas filings. A call to the office late Thursday seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped because of a chemical imbalance, and court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, and say she could get better.
"It would be such a horrible tragedy for Terri to have this delayed again," said George Felos, attorney for Michael Schiavo. "Either Terri's rights and wishes are going to be carried out tomorrow at 1 p.m. or there is going to be another unconstitutional intervention."
Doctors have said it could take a week or two for Schiavo to die once the tube that delivers water and nutrients is removed.
Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has strongly urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would save Schiavo, as it did in 2003. That law allowed Bush to order doctors to restore Schiavo's feeding tube six days after it had been removed. But that law was later declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
Bush acknowledged Thursday that state legislation to intervene was halted. "The bill is certainly not dead, but it does appear that they're having some difficulty," he said. "I'm just disappointed, but that's their decision."
In Washington, both the U.S. House and Senate passed bills to move the case to federal court, but the effort stalled over differences between House Republicans and members of both parties in the Senate over how sweeping it should be. Schiavo's parents and brother spent the day in the Capitol lobbying lawmakers to pass some kind of legislation.
House Republicans insisted that federal courts be given jurisdiction in similar cases questioning the legality of withholding food or medical treatment from people incapacitated like Schiavo. The Senate limited its bill to the Schiavo case only.
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