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Fla. right-to-die law faces high court test

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's Supreme Court justices yesterday suggested the Legislature did an end run around the court system by passing a law that let Governor Jeb Bush order the reinsertion of a brain-damaged woman's feeding tube.

The high court heard arguments in the case of Terri Schiavo, who is at the center of one of the nation's longest and most bitter right-to-die battles. This is the first time the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up any aspect of the 14-year-old case.

Justice Charles Wells said he was troubled because he had to conclude that "Terri's Law," passed in October, was designed to sidestep a trial court ruling that found "clear and convincing evidence" Schiavo would not want to be kept alive artificially.

Bush lawyer Robert Destro, a law professor at Washington's Catholic University of America, said the Legislature was simply trying to protect the woman.

"The Legislature gave this power to the governor because the governor . . . is the ultimate defender of people's civil rights in the state," Destro said.

Another Bush lawyer, Ken Connor, said the courts do not have the "exclusive domain" of protecting the rights of disabled people.

The high court did not indicate when it would rule on the case.

Schiavo, 40, suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped beating, a condition brought on by an eating disorder. She left no written instructions in the event she became incapacitated. Some medical analysts have declared that she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

Her husband, Michael, has argued that she would not want to be kept alive in this way. But her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, dispute that and argue that she could someday regain some of her faculties.

Last year her feeding tube was removed with court approval at the request of her husband. But six days later, the governor ordered the feeding to resume, invoking a law that was drafted because of the Schiavo case and rushed through the Legislature.

Michael Schiavo has challenged the law's constitutionality.

George Felos, Michael Schiavo's lawyer, said it was "absolutely extraordinary for the governor to argue that the Legislature in 18 hours and the governor in a matter of hours somehow possess some wisdom regarding the matter of Terri Schiavo that could not have been ascertained by the justices of this state in six years."

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