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Florida court strikes down 'Terri's Law'

Woman's parents, spouse at odds over removing feeding tube

Terri Schiavo has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 14 years.
Read the documents in the case  (FindLaw)
• Fla. Supreme Court opinion:  Bush v. Schiavo (PDF)external link
Order  Schiavo v. Bush (PDF)external link
Terri Schiavo

(CNN) -- In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a law quickly passed to keep a brain-damaged woman on a feeding tube despite her husband's opposition.

The high court upheld a lower ruling that said "Terri's Law," named after Terri Schiavo, was unconstitutional.

Thursday's decision said the law violated the fundamental separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

Schiavo has been in a persistent vegetative state for 14 years after suffering heart failure from a potassium imbalance.

Her husband, Michael Schiavo, has been battling her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, over whether his wife should be allowed to die.

Michael Schiavo has said that his wife had previously told him that she would not want to be kept alive artificially.

Doctors who have testified on his behalf have said she has no hope for recovery. She is fed through a tube but breathes on her own.

The Schindlers have maintained that their daughter could be helped with therapy.

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

The governor's office appealed to the Florida Supreme Court after a Pinellas County Circuit Court judge ruled in May that "Terri's Law" was unconstitutional and a violation of the right to privacy.

The Schindlers issued a written statement expressing thanks to Bush and the Legislature and disappointment over the ruling.

"We are pursuing other legal avenues which we hope will save Terri's life," the statement said.

One of Michael Schiavo's attorneys also issued a response to the court decision.

"We are gratified that the Florida Supreme Court found that this law was an egregious abuse of power and violated every tenet that is central to the Florida Constitution," said Thomas Perrelli.

A second court case is pending in which the Schindlers are seeking to have Schiavo removed as their daughter's guardian.

Bush said he was disappointed in the ruling.

"I'm disappointed for the moral reasons of the taking of innocent life without having, I don't think, a full hearing on the facts of what her intents were," the governor said, adding that his "thoughts and prayers go to Terri's family."

"In my heart I believe we did what was right, but I'm respectful of the Supreme Court's decision," the governor said.

"We will review what the ruling says. We will make a determination if there are any additional steps that can be taken. If there are, we'll take them; if not, we will let the action of the Supreme Court stand."

The court has given the governor's office until October 4 to ask for a rehearing. After making a decision on that possible request, the court would issue a mandate to make their decision final.

In its ruling, the court said it was not "insensitive to the struggle that all members of Theresa's family have endured since she fell unconscious in 1990."

"However, we are a nation of laws and we must govern our decisions by the rule of law and not by our own emotions," the decision said.

CNN's Rich Phillips contributed to this report.

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