U.S. District Judge James Whittemore backs off making a decision in the life-or-death case

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated March 22, 2005 08:50 AM

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore says he will not intervene in the case of Terri Schiavo, whose life has been hanging in the balance in what has become a political tug-o-war over whether to reconnect her feeding tube or let the brain-damaged woman drift on toward death.

Whittemore’s decision – or lack of one – was announced early Tuesday morning, and means that Schiavo’s feeding tube will not be reinserted.

On Monday, under a law hurried through Congress and signed by President Bush outside his White House bedroom after he had cut short his Easter vacation, attorneys for Schiavo’s parents argued that letting Terri die violates both her rights and her Roman Catholic religion.

Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube had been removed Friday, the third such time it has been disconnected. The two previous times, the tube was re-inserted, once ordered by a judge, once by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on a special state law later thrown out by the courts.

Terri’s husband, Michael Schiavo, contends he is carrying out his wife’s wishes not to be kept alive artificially. He said he was outraged that lawmakers and the president were intervening in what is a private matter.

“There is no happy ending,” Michael Schiavo said on CNN’s Larry King Live late Monday. “When Terri’s wishes are carried out, it will be her wish. She will be at peace. She will be with the Lord.”

David Gibbs III, the parents’ attorney, said that forcing Schiavo to starve would be “a mortal sin,” reports the Associated Press. But George Felos, an attorney for Terri’s husband Michael, argued that keeping the 41-year-old woman alive also violated her rights and noted that the case has been aired thoroughly in state courts.

“Yes, life is sacred,” Felos said, contending that restarting artificial feedings would be against Schiavo’s wishes. “So is liberty, particularly in this country.”

According to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll of 909 adults taken over the weekend, nearly six in 10 people said they think the feeding tube should be removed and felt they would want to remove it for a child or spouse in the same condition.