Mixed ruling in right-to-die case Terri Schindler-Schiavo will be kept alive until it can be settled. She has been in a coma for 11 years.

Posted: July 12, 2001

Terri Schindler-Schiavo - the comatose Pennsylvania native at the center of a life-and-death battle between her parents and her husband - will be kept alive while the legal fight continues, a Florida appeals court decided yesterday.

In an opinion that gave her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, guarded optimism, the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland sent the case back to the trial court. That court now must determine if a hearing should be held on what the Schindlers maintain is new evidence that their daughter could recover.

"It's not over," said Bob Schindler, who moved from Huntingdon Valley to Florida about 15 years ago. "I'll be happy the day they say we can start tending to Terri and start getting her rehabilitated. We're still in the midst of a struggle. But it's a lot better than it could have been. We didn't know what the appeals court would do."

The Schindlers also want Judge George Greer to hear from two former girlfriends of Schindler-Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo. The women, they say, will contradict his testimony that Terri told him she would not want to be kept alive by heroic means. Greer relied heavily on that testimony when he decided in January 2000 that the feeding tubes should be removed.

Schiavo stands to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars if his wife dies.

Greer's ruling was upheld this year by the Second District Court, and both the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts declined to hear appeals. In late April, the tube was removed for what was expected to lead to death by starvation. But two days later, an emergency injunction by another judge forced the feeding to begin anew.

In an unusual move, the appeals court yesterday reversed its earlier order mandating the end of nourishment. At the same time, it reprimanded the Schindlers for presenting the court with sloppy legal appeals, overturned the injunction, and said the Schindlers had waited past the one-year limit of presenting new evidence.

Still, with a life in the balance, the judges were reluctant to order the removal of the feeding tube until Greer could reevaluate the case. They ordered motions be filed with Greer by Monday.

Pat Anderson, the Schindlers' lawyer, said she was elated at the prospect of presenting new evidence.

"It would be disingenuous of me to declare a total victory, but the court was obviously troubled by the prospect that a mistake was made, and they're willing to give us the opportunity to prove a mistake was made," she said.

Anderson said she has lined up six medical experts who will say Schindler-Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state - as other doctors have claimed - and that advances in therapy in the 11 years since she lapsed into a coma could return some cognitive function.

However, the lawyer for Michael Schiavo believes that while the appellate judges opened the door a crack, the Schindlers will not be able to present any of that evidence because of the one-year rule.

"They have to bring up something new," Michael Schiavo's attorney George Felos said. "Rehashing something that the appellate court found to be legally insufficient will not cut it."

Terri Schindler-Schiavo, 37, was 26 in February 1990 when she had a heart attack at her St. Petersburg, Fla., home that doctors said was brought on by a potassium imbalance. Her parents noted an eating disorder that might have triggered the attack.

Ralph Vigoda's e-mail address is rvigoda@phillynews.com.

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