The legal battle over a contentious right-to-die case involving a severely brain-damaged woman hinges on what — if any — instructions that a Florida appeals court gives on when her feeding tube can be removed.
Michael Schiavo could have doctors take out the feeding tube from his wife, Terri Schiavo, as early as Tuesday, depending on what action the 2nd District Court of Appeals takes on a request for an emergency stay by her parents.
Schiavo left no written instructions before a heart attack left her severely brain-damaged at age 26, leading to four different trials and a Florida law that was overturned in court, reports Gordon Byrd of CBS radio affiliate WHNZ.
Bob and Mary Schindler have waged a long fight in several courts to block their son-in-law from halting the tube feedings that have kept their daughter alive for 15 years.
"If they go ahead and take action against Terry, we will file for immediate contempt charges," their attorney, David Gibbs, said.
On Monday, attorneys for the Schindlers tried again — asking a judge to extend a stay set to expire Tuesday so they could stop Michael Schiavo from doing anything before a hearing on pending legal issues. The hearing, which includes a motion to remove Michael Schiavo as his wife's guardian, was set for Wednesday.
"We don't need to rush to Terri's death," said Gibbs.
Gibbs said the judge would wait until the appeals court's action before deciding on whether to issue a stay.
The long-running case has drawn international attention and debate, and rallied religious forces worldwide. Some doctors have ruled Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state; others believe she has some mental abilities.
Terri Schiavo, 41, left no written will when she collapsed in 1990 from what doctors said was a chemical imbalance that stopped her heart. She still breathes on her own but relies on the tube for food and water.
Her husband has said she never wanted to be kept alive artificially.
George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, said he did not know if his client planned to have the tube removed Tuesday. But, Felos said, Michael Schiavo is legally obligated under previous rulings to have the tube removed now that all legal barriers have been cleared.
"My client is taking this case one day at a time," Felos said.
Bob Schindler, at a news conference Monday, said his family can do nothing more than take the case "day to day" and "pray for a miracle."
Terri Schiavo has twice had her tube removed only to have it reinserted in dramatic, last-minute developments.
In October 2003, she went without food or water for six days before Gov. Jeb Bush pushed through a new law letting him order the tube be reinserted. The Florida Supreme Court later struck down his action as unconstitutional.
The courts also sided with Michael Schiavo when he had the tube briefly removed for two days in 2001.
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider a legal challenge to "Terri's Law," the measure pushed by Bush in 2003 to keep her alive after the courts had cleared the way for her death.
Last year, a judge issued an indefinite stay blocking the tube's removal pending the Schindlers' appeals.