Washington The Supreme Court refused on Monday to step in and keep a severely brain-damaged woman hooked to a feeding tube, all but ending a long-running right-to-die battle pitting her husband against her parents.
It was the second time the Supreme Court dodged the politically charged case from Florida, where Republican Gov. Jeb Bush successfully lobbied the Legislature to pass a law to keep 41-year-old Terri Schiavo on life support.
The decision was criticized as "judicial homicide" by Mrs. Schiavo's father, Robert Schindler, but applauded by her husband, Michael Schiavo, who contends his wife never wanted to be kept alive artificially.
The court's action is very narrow, affecting only Schiavo.
More broadly, sometime after returning from their winter break, the justices will consider the Bush administration's request to block the nation's only law allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients die more quickly. Oregon voters passed that law in 1998, and more states could follow if justices find that the federal government cannot punish doctors who prescribed lethal doses of federally controlled drugs.
Terri Schiavo was 26 when she suffered brain damage in 1990 after her heart temporarily stopped beating because of an eating disorder.
Most of the legal wrangling in the case has involved whether she is in a persistent vegetative state with no chance of recovery and whether her husband has a conflict of interest because he lives with another woman and has two children with her.
The legal battle between Mrs. Schiavo's husband and parents began in 1993 and appeared to reach its climax in 2003 when Michael Schiavo won a court decision ordering that the feeding tube be removed. But it was reinserted six days later, after the Legislature passed "Terri's Law."
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the law was an unconstitutional effort to override court rulings. The nation's high court refused without comment to disturb that decision.
"It's judicial homicide. They want to murder her," Schindler said. "I have no idea what the next step will be. We're going to fight for her as much as we can fight for her. She deserves a chance."
George Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo, said his client would have his wife's feeding tube removed as soon as pending appeals were over and a stay was lifted.
"You've got to look at it from his perspective -- he's a citizen living in Clearwater (Fla.) and up against the weight of the governor and Legislature of the state of Florida -- a governor whose brother is president of the United States. That was a very, very difficult and imposing fight. He was very relieved that the rule of law prevailed," Felos said.
Mrs. Schiavo, who has lived in nursing homes, can breathe on her own but depends on a feeding tube to stay alive because she cannot swallow on her own.