Limited Legal Options Left for Terri Schiavo



A constitutional law attorney says Florida Governor Jeb Bush has few legal options now that the state Supreme Court has struck down a law passed by the legislature to keep Terri Schiavo, who is severely brain damage, alive.

The unanimous decision, handed down on last Thursday, said the law violated the separation of powers between the judicial branch and the legislative and executive branches. Last year, lower courts ruled that Michael Schiavo could have his wife's feeding tube removed — but lawmakers passed a law to overrule the courts. Governor Bush then used that law to have the woman's tube inserted. In its ruling, Florida's high court said the law improperly delegated legislative powers to the governor.

Brian Fahling, an attorney with the Center for Law & Policy in Mississippi, takes issue with the ruling. “Certainly the governor was within his authority to see that life is preserved in that state,” he says, “and the state legislature is to be commended for taking action in order to see that they provided him with statutory authority to protect her.”

But now with the state Supreme Court's decision, Fahling laments that the legal options are limited. “There's no appeal federally because it's a state law that was at issue,” he explains.

“[T]he governor's just going to have to get together with the legislative branch and determine what, if anything, remains for them to do to protect Terry Schiavo in order to keep her from the clutches, if you will, of the grim reaper in the form of her husband, who would like to have those feeding tubes removed.”

Still, he says, the Florida governor has an “independent duty to interpret [the state] constitution — and sometimes extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.”

The attorney admits he is startled by the implications. “Here we're talking about life or death,” he observes, “and the court has just told [Governor Bush] that he cannot protect one of the citizens of his state.”

Like Fahling, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is decrying the court decision, saying he is “appalled” that the high court chose to override the will of the people's elected representatives. Dobson, who says the decision is “nothing less than a death sentence” for Mrs. Schiavo, reveals a sad irony in the ruling.

“That the court would justify its ruling in the name of a violation of the separation of powers between the branches of government is the ultimate insult,” he says. “It is the courts that have been usurping the constitutional duty of the legislatures to make law rather than interpret it.”

Terri Schiavo, 40, can breathe on her own but relies on a feeding and hydration tube to live. She suffered brain damage 14 years ago when her heart stopped beating.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)

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