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Schiavo family vigil nearing end

PINELLAS PARK, Fla. -- The lengthy and anguished legal effort to restore Terri Schiavo's feeding tube seemed to be nearing an end yesterday after a Florida circuit judge and the state's Supreme Court rejected final emergency pleas by her parents, leaving the severely brain-damaged woman without food and water for the eighth day.

The Schindler family had filed the appeals after abandoning efforts in federal court.

They repeated arguments that have been dismissed several times in recent weeks, as the case traveled in and out of the same few courts, before the same few judges.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for Schiavo's husband, Michael, said that 41-year-old Terri Schiavo looked peaceful in her hospice bed and that her breathing remained normal -- an indication that her major organs had not yet failed. Her lips and skin have become dry, but are not bleeding or peeling, and Vaseline has been administered to prevent skin problems, according to the lawyer and family members yesterday.

The crowd that has kept vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice for the past few weeks had thinned slightly and was less vocal than earlier in the week, with many protesters saying they were resigned to the fact that Schiavo will soon die.

But some angrily called on Governor Jeb Bush of Florida to somehow intervene. Bush has said he will not.

With the focus shifting from the courts to the small hospice room here where Schiavo lies with an armed guard at her bedside, conflicting reports of her condition emerged from family members and friends.

Schiavo's father, Bob Schindler, exited after a 15-minute visit with his daughter in the afternoon and said: ''She's hanging in there. She's looking good."

The comments were in sharp contrast to his remarks Friday that his daughter faced her ''last hours."

When his son, Bobby Schindler, left the hospice hours later and spoke to reporters, he angrily addressed those who have criticized the family's efforts.

''They should see my sister," he said.

But Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, who spent about 20 minutes in Schiavo's room yesterday, said: ''She is calm. She is peaceful. She is resting comfortably. Her lips are not chapped. They are not bleeding. Her skin's not peeling. She looked beautiful."

Felos said Michael Schiavo rejected a request by his wife's family to have her receive Communion over the Easter weekend. She will receive the Catholic sacrament once more before her death, Felos indicated, although he would not say when.

He also confirmed that Schiavo would be cremated after death, her ashes buried in a Schiavo family plot in Pennsylvania.

Although Schiavo's vital signs are not being monitored, Felos, who has worked for years with hospice patients, said her breathing remained steady.

''Mrs. Schiavo's death is not imminent," he said, adding that she made a low groan when her body shifted position during his visit. ''There was just a naturalness about her."

David Gibbs III, a lawyer for the Schindler family, said: ''Time is moving quickly . . . Terri Schiavo will pass the point that she will be able to recover over this Easter weekend."

He said an unusual plea made Friday to Judge George W. Greer of Florida's Sixth Judicial Circuit was the family's last legal avenue in the case.

That motion argued that Schiavo had recently indicated she wanted to live by uttering ''AHHH" and ''WAAAA" during a family visit, according to court papers. Her doctors have said such vocalizing is involuntary and consistent with patients in a persistent vegetative state, a medical term meaning that her cognitive abilities are virtually nonexistent. Greer ruled yesterday that this new claim did not warrant reinserting Schiavo's feeding tube.

The family appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court, but the request was dismissed last night.

The family announced yesterday that it would abandon its efforts in federal courts, after an appeals court in Atlanta ruled against them for a third time Friday.

Without food and water for more than a week, Schiavo's body has probably burned through much of her stored fat and protein, with toxins building up in her bloodstream, end-of-life care specialists said. Her kidneys will probably fail soon, and cardiac arrest will probably end her life within a week, they said.

But with her cerebral cortex severely damaged, Schiavo is unlikely to feel any pain or suffer from distress over her fate, specialists said.

And so the family's saga seemed to be in its final stage.

In 2003, Schiavo spent six days without food and water, before Governor Bush and the Florida Legislature passed a bill ordering the tube restored. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled the law unconstitutional. But in recent days, Bush has said he can do nothing more, and the Legislature was unable to pass another similar bill.

A sense of gloom descended on the protesters who have gathered outside the Woodside Hospice for the last month.

About 90 people prayed, chanted, and waved placards yesterday on a hot, muggy day in Pinellas Park, a bedroom community near St. Petersburg.

At noon, five men leaned against five large wood crosses, their eyes closed in prayer. A lone drum maintained a slow, steady rhythm.

Daniel Sparks, 29, an Anglican priest from Birmingham, Ala., said: ''There are many ways to stop this. The governor, child services, the president, the Congress, they could all do something if they wanted."

Asked whether any of them would act, Sparks said: ''Based on what I've seen or heard, I'd say no. This is state-sanctioned murder."

Mary LaFrancis, 70, of Fairfield, Iowa, sat quietly yesterday in front of the hospice, wearing an ''I Love Terri" button.

''It's in God's hands," she said. ''The hours are counting down."

Raja Mishra can be reached at rmishra@globe.com.

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