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Woman's Return to Life-Support Opens New Rifts

After nearly a week without food or water, Terri Schiavo -- a Florida woman at the center of a bitter right-to-die case -- is being fed and given rehydrating liquids at a St. Petersburg hospital. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, armed with a hastily passed state law, ordered Tuesday that Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade, be put back on artificial life support.

Schiavo's husband, Michael, said the state's action was against her wishes. But even as experts debated the implications of the new law, NPR's Phillip Davis reports the battle over who will control Schiavo's fate is far from over.

Schiavo went into cardiac arrest in 1990 and has never fully regained consciousness. She is now 39 years old, and doctors say she's severely brain damaged and in a persistent vegetative state. Schiavo had no living will, but Michael Schiavo, says his wife told him she wouldn't want to live in such a condition. Michael Schiavo petitioned the courts to take her off her feeding tubes and, as he said, let her die with dignity. The courts agreed, and his wife was taken off her feeding tubes last Wednesday. Her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, objected.

The Schindlers maintain hope that their daughter can be returned to a conscious state, and have fought to keep her on life support. They won a big battle Tuesday when both the Florida House and Senate passed a bill allowing the governor to circumvent the court orders and keep Schiavo on the feeding tubes. Within an hour of the bill's passage, Gov. Bush ordered that the feeding tubes be reinserted.

Schiavo's parents hope that she may recover with physical therapy. They say Schiavo often opens her eyes and even smiles. But it's a false hope, says Kenneth Goodman, a University of Miami professor and head of the state's bioethics network.

"It's one of the cruelest tricks that biology can play on us," he says. "Your heart goes out to the loved ones, they think their dear one is actually communicating with them, but that's not what's happening according to neurologists."

Goodman as well as a number of doctors who have examined Schiavo say it is unlikely she'll ever recover.

Michael Schiavo is expected to fight the new legislation in court.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.

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