Hoping to succeed where they failed before, Terri Schiavo's parents have asked the Supreme Court to order the reinsertion of their severely brain-damaged daughter's feeding tube.
The appeal by Bob and Mary Schindler - their fifth to the high court - caps a rush of legal activity in the unprecedented right-to-die struggle.
Filed late Wednesday night by the Schindlers' attorneys, the request came only hours after a federal appeals court refused to order the tube reinserted and the Florida Legislature decided not to intervene. Gov. Jeb Bush continued his staunch support of the Schindlers, seeking court permission to take custody of Schiavo. A ruling on that request was expected by noon Thursday.
There was no immediate word when the justices might act on the new filing. But time was of the essence as Schiavo, 41, began her sixth day without a feeding tube Thursday. Doctors have said she likely would die within a week or two at her hospice.
"She has to start getting hydration. Because if she doesn't, she's not going to be with us much longer," Bob Schindler told Fox News Channel outside the Pinellas Park hospice Wednesday night.
Supporters of Schiavo's parents grew increasingly dismayed Wednesday, and 13 protesters were arrested outside her hospice for trying to bring her water. About 10 or 15 protesters were gathered outside the hospice early Thursday, most of them sleeping.
Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
Her parents argue that she could get better and that she would never have wanted to be cut off from food and water. But Schiavo's husband, Michael, has argued that she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially, and a state judge has repeatedly ruled in his favor.
On Wednesday, a lawyer for Michael Schiavo said he was pleased by what happened in the appeals court. But he was bothered that the governor was attempting to intervene again.
"They have no more power than you or I or a person walking down the street to say we have the right to take Terri Schiavo," attorney George Felos said.
Felos did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment after the filing.
In the emergency Supreme Court filing, the Schindlers say their daughter faces an unjust and imminent death based on a decision by her husband to remove a feeding tube without strong proof of her consent. They allege constitutional violations of due process and religious freedom.
The filing also argues Congress intended for Schiavo's tube to be reinserted, at least temporarily, when it passed an extraordinary bill last weekend that gave federal courts authority to fully review her case.
The filing is seen as a long shot. The Supreme Court has declined other opportunities to get involved in the Schiavo case and legal experts say there is little reason to believe justices will intervene this time.
The Schindlers' request goes first to Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who has staked a moderate position on social issues. He has the option to act on the petition alone or refer it to the entire court, which he did on the last emergency request involving Schiavo.
On the previous emergency request last Friday, justices voted to deny relief within four hours of the filing.
The Schindlers' attorney, David Gibbs III, declined immediate comment on the brief to The Associated Press.
Schiavo's tube was removed Friday afternoon with a Florida judge's approval. By late Tuesday, her eyes were sunken and her skin, lips and tongue were parched, said Barbara Weller, an attorney for the Schindlers.
Gov. Jeb Bush and the state's social services agency filed a petition in state court to take custody of Schiavo and, presumably, reconnect her feeding tube. It cites new allegations of neglect and challenges Schiavo's diagnosis as being in a persistent vegetative state. The request is based on the opinion of a neurologist working for the state who observed Schiavo at her bedside but did not conduct an examination of her.
The neurologist, William Cheshire of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, is a bioethicist who is also an active member in Christian organizations, including two whose leaders have spoken out against the tube's removal.
Ronald Cranford of the University of Minnesota, a neurologist who was among those who made a previous diagnosis of Schiavo, said "there isn't a reputable, credible neurologist in the world who won't find her in a vegetative state."
The custody request by Bush, which faced long odds, was made before Judge George Greer, who has presided over the case for several years and ordered the feeding tube removed last month. Greer planned to decide by noon Thursday on whether the case would go forward. He issued an emergency order Wednesday to keep the Department of Children & Families from reconnecting the tube.
The Florida Legislature also jumped back into the fray, but senators rejected a bill that would have prohibited patients like Schiavo from being denied food and water if they did not express their wishes in writing. The measure was rejected 21-18.
"We're heartbroken," Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj said. Gibbs also said he was disappointed lawmakers didn't try "to help Terri and help future generations of Floridians."
The Legislature stepped in before, in 2003, and Schiavo's feeding tube was reinserted. But "Terri's Law" was later struck down by the state Supreme Court as an unconstitutional attempt to interfere in the courts.
Wednesday, President George W. Bush suggested that he and Congress had done their best to help the parents prolong Schiavo's life, and the White House said it had no further legal options.
"I believe that in a case such as this, the legislative branch, the executive branch, ought to err on the side of life, which we have," the president said. "Now we'll watch the courts make their decisions."
JILL BARTON Associated Press