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Congress to meet Sunday on Schiavo bill

Brain-damaged woman's mom begs: 'Save my little girl'


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Relatives react to congressional action on behalf of Terri Schiavo.

DeLay announces compromise bill on Schiavo's fate.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta explains a 'persistent vegetative state.'
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PERSISTENT VEGETATIVE STATE

This term is commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death." It can follow a coma.
People in a persistent vegetative state cannot think, speak or respond to commands and are not aware of their surroundings. They may have noncognitive functions and breathing and circulation may remain relatively intact.

They also might move spontaneously and even grimace, cry or laugh. Some people might regain some awareness after being in a persistent vegetative state but others might remain in the state for decades.

Source: National Institutes of Health
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of Congress said Saturday that they have agreed on a compromise, bipartisan bill aimed at saving the life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose feeding tube was disconnected Friday by order of a Florida court.

"It seems to me that we are at a point where we have no choice other than to ensure these parents, who are desperately seeking an opportunity to care for their daughter, have a chance to be heard in federal court," Republican Rep. David Dreier of California said, referring to Mary and Bob Schindler, Schiavo's parents.

The legislation -- which must be voted on by the House and the Senate -- would allow Schiavo's parents, who have been waging their legal battles in state court, to take their case to a federal court in Florida.

There is no language ordering that the tube be reinserted, because Congress has no authority to do that.

"We should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a living human being," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican. "This is giving the Schindlers the opportunity to get into federal court and have a federal judge look at this, based on the merits of the case."

The compromise legislation applies only to the Schiavo case, lawmakers said.

The bill would give jurisdiction to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, which covers an area from the Georgia border on the northeast to south of Naples on the southwest coast.

The court would be asked to "issue such declaratory and injunctive relief as may be necessary to protect the rights of Theresa Marie Schiavo under the Constitution and laws of the United States relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life."

The Senate met briefly Saturday for a procedural move and will reconvene Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., about one hour after the House begins meeting.

However, because most House Democrats object to intervening in the Schiavo matter, few are likely to show up for Sunday's special House session to vote, a House Democratic leadership aide said Saturday.

Only one Democrat is needed to object when Republicans try to pass the bill by unanimous consent. Therefore, Republican leaders plan to call lawmakers back at midnight -- the first moment parliamentary rules allow them to act on the legislation -- and pass it with mostly GOP votes, the aide said.

Many Democrats believe Congress is "meddling in a private matter" and is "overreaching" its authority by acting on the bill, the aide said.

President Bush planned to leave his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for Washington late Sunday morning so he can be ready to sign any legislation passed, spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"This is about defending life," McClellan said.

Long legal battle

Schiavo, now 41, collapsed in 1990 in her home, suffering from heart failure that led to her brain damage.

Her parents have been fighting her husband over her fate for years. Lower courts have ruled that Schiavo is in a "persistent vegetative state."

Her husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, has been fighting to have her feeding tube removed for more than a decade, contending his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially.

Her parents argue she had no such wish and believe she could get better with rehabilitation.

Terri Schiavo did not leave anything in writing about what she would want if she ever became incapacitated.

Over the years, courts have sided with her husband in more than a dozen cases.

Schiavo's feeding tube was disconnected about 1:45 p.m. Friday, George Felos, the attorney for her husband, told reporters. It was the third time the tube had been disconnected from the 41-year-old woman.

Cry for help

Schiavo's anguished mother pleaded Saturday with officials and lawmakers to save her daughter's life.

"My daughter is in the building behind me, starving to death," Mary Schindler said. "We laugh together, we cry together, we smile together, we talk together. She is my life.

"I am begging Governor [Jeb] Bush and the politicians in Tallahassee, President Bush and the politicians in Washington: Please, please, please save my little girl," Schindler said.

At the Florida hospice where Schiavo is being cared for, three people, including former militia-movement leader James "Bo" Gritz, were arrested Saturday because they refused to stay back from a police line. The three apparently were trying to get water to Schiavo.

Other activists at the scene said they had plans to attempt to get bread and water to Schiavo, but said they would wait until Tuesday to see what happens in Washington.

CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash and Bob Franken contributed to this report.


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