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Law keeping brain-damaged woman alive struck down

Florida governor files appeal of judge's ruling

Terri Schiavo has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 14 years.
Read the documents in the case  (FindLaw)
Jeb Bush
Brain Damage

CLEARWATER, Florida (CNN) -- A Pinellas County Circuit Court judge has dealt Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a first-round defeat by ruling that a law specifically intended to save the life of a brain-damaged woman is unconstitutional and a violation of the right to privacy.

Terri Schiavo has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 14 years.

Her husband, Michael Schiavo, has been in a battle with her parents over whether his wife should be allowed to die. Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have maintained that their daughter could be helped with therapy.

After years of litigation and appeals, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed in October, only to be reinserted six days later after the Florida Legislature, in emergency session, passed a law that affected only Terri Schiavo. The legislation gave Bush the power to intervene in the case, and he ordered the feeding tube reinserted.

Judge W. Douglas Baird wrote that the law is unconstitutional "because it is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the governor and because it unjustifiably authorizes the governor to summarily deprive Florida citizens of their constitutional right to privacy."

Baird also wrote that "by substituting the personal judgment of the governor for that of the patient, the act deprives every individual who is subject to its terms of his or her constitutionally guaranteed right to the privacy of his or her own medical decisions."

Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, said it was "just wonderful to read, to see the judge in his analysis, in his language, to say what we've all known. This law is just grossly unconstitutional. That's so apparent and compelling that there's no way under our system of government that it can stand."

The Schindler family attorney, Pat Anderson said, "It is not surprising, but it is saddening, especially since Terri's parents have not been allowed to see her since March 29. This puts a particularly tragic aspect to all of this. ... The show is not over yet."

The governor's office said no one was immediately available for comment.

Shortly after the ruling, the governor's office filed a notice of appeal. Most experts said they believe the case will end up before the Florida Supreme Court.

Terri Schiavo suffered heart failure from a potassium imbalance in 1990.

Her husband has said his wife told him that she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Doctors who have testified on behalf of Michael Schiavo have said that his wife has no hope for recovery. She is fed through a tube, but she breathes on her own.

In his ruling, the judge also issued a protective order barring the taking of any depositions in the case, saying they would be improper and burdensome.

Felos said that when Michael Schiavo was told of the decision, "he was obviously delighted and very grateful to Judge Baird and hopeful that with the momentum of this decision that Terri's rights can be carried out."

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