Vigil For Comatose Florida Woman

Terri Schiavo, center, poses with her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, on her wedding day in in 1984. Terri's devoutly Roman Catholic parents insist she would want to live, and that she can be helped with therapy. AP (file)

Mary Schindler leaned over her daughter, trying to coax a word or a smile from the 39-year-old woman the way a mother would try to prompt a response from a baby.

"Mommy loves you," Schindler told her daughter, as she nuzzled her on the cheek. Terri Schiavo moaned and blinked during the session, secretly recorded more than two years ago by the Schindlers.

Through six years of legal battles, Bob and Mary Schindler have never given up hope that their daughter, who has been in a vegetative state since 1990 after a heart attack, might one day be able to talk, or that the courts would stop their son-in-law Michael Schiavo from ending her life.

Michael Schiavo has won the legal fight. A feeding tube that kept his wife alive was disconnected Wednesday, and doctors say she will die within two weeks without it.

The Schindlers still hope their daughter can be saved.

"It's an emotional roller coaster," Bob Schindler said. "I go one day at a time."

The Schindlers have been here before. In April 2001, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was disconnected for two days before a judge ordered feedings resumed based on new evidence. But there is no new evidence this time, and no judge appears to be willing to step in.

On Thursday, the Schindler's supporters sent legal memorandums to Gov. Jeb Bush outlining potential options for his intervention. The governor, who has sided with the Schindlers, says his office has not yet found a means to intervene.

The Florida Supreme Court has twice refused to hear the case, and it also has been rejected for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. On Tuesday, a Florida appeals court again refused to block removal of the tube.

Terri Schiavo's husband says he is carrying out his wife's wishes that she not be kept alive artificially. Her parents believe she responds to them and could benefit from therapy.

The Schindlers have been encouraged by her moans and groans, by what they see as a smile or a tear, and by what they believe is an occasional word from their daughter. But doctors say it's all reflexes.

The Schindlers have received support from many corners. Anti-abortion activists are holding 24-hour vigils outside the hospice where Terri is. Thousands have sent the parents e-mails and messaged Gov. Bush in support.

On Thursday, Mary Schindler briefly visited her daughter, who was not responsive, family supporters said.

"Her mother's a wreck," said Randall Terry, a national anti-abortion activist who has taken on the Schindlers' cause.

The Schindlers have accused Michael Schiavo of wanting his wife dead so he can marry his girlfriend, with whom he has a child and another baby on the way. They have begged him to divorce Terri and let them care for her.

Michael Schiavo has refused to divorce his wife, saying that he fears her parents would ignore her desire to die if they became her guardians.

"This is not about the Schindlers' wishes, it's about Terri's wishes," said George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo.

There was a time when Terri and Michael Schiavo were so close to her parents they lived with the Schindlers after the quartet moved to Florida from their native Pennsylvania.

"I am an eternal optimist," Bob Schindler said. "I believe it's in God's hands."

Schiavo's parents believe she is capable of learning how to eat and drink on her own and say she has shown signs of trying to communicate and could be rehabilitated.

"Our daughter is not in a consistent vegetative state," her father said Wednesday, in a CBS News interview before the removal of the feeding tube. "There are three times as many doctors on record with the court stating she does not have the brain damage as was presented to the court."

Schiavo's attorney disputes that.

"We've had 20 judges separate the fact from the fiction in this case and all of them have determined that Terri is in a vegetative condition," Felos told CBS News. "She has no consciousness. There is no hope that she could recover ... she can't be fed naturally."

"I know the Schindlers don't believe this," added Felos. "They're still in denial. They're in desperation, but the fact is this case is about Terri and her right to make her own choices and her right to have those choices carried out."

  • Francie Grace

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