By RON WORD, Associated Press Writer
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. - A federal appeals court agreed to consider an emergency bid by Terri Schiavo's parents for a new hearing on whether to reconnect her feeding tube, raising their fading hopes of keeping the severely brain-damaged woman alive.
In its order late Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't say when it would decide whether to grant the hearing. It was not clear what effect reconnecting Terri Schiavo's feeding tube would have on her, as she approached her 13th day without nourishment. As of early Wednesday afternoon, no further word had come from the appeals court.
The Tuesday order issued allowed Bob and Mary Schindler to file the appeal, even though the court had set a March 26 deadline for doing so.
Its one-sentence order said: "The Appellant's emergency motion for leave to file out of time is granted." Three times last week, the court ruled against the Schindlers.
In requesting a new hearing, the Schindlers argued that a federal judge in Tampa should have considered the entire state court record and not whether previous Florida court rulings met legal standards under state law. It also stated that the Atlanta federal appellate court didn't consider whether there was enough "clear and convincing" evidence that Terri Schiavo would have chosen to die in her current condition.
Attorneys for the Schindlers didn't immediately return phone messages Wednesday. George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, declined to comment.
Time was running out for Schiavo, however. Bob Schindler described his daughter on Tuesday as "failing."
"She still looks pretty darn good under the circumstances," Schindler said. "You can see the impact of no food and water for 12 days. Her bodily functions are still working. We still have her."
Doctors have said Schiavo, 41, would probably die within two weeks after the tube was removed March 18. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, insists he is carrying out her wishes by having the feeding tube pulled.
The request for a new hearing also asks to have the tube reinserted immediately "in light of the magnitude of what is at stake and the urgency of the action required."
The order was a ray of hope for the Schindlers, who are battling their son-in-law over their daughter's fate. The case has wound its way through six courts for seven years; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene five times.
Legal experts say the Schindlers shouldn't read too much into the court's latest decision.
"I would not read that to mean there is a likelihood relief will be granted," said Atlanta attorney Craig A. Gillen. "The court is saying, 'We'll let you ask us for en banc.' That's it."
Another Atlanta attorney, Robert Schroeder, said the court is simply acting to make sure every legal argument has been aired.
"Basically the court is just saying that if you think we've made a mistake, we want to consider all legal arguments that might be out there," Schroeder said. "It is not saying there are more legal arguments out there."
Protesters keeping a 24-hour vigil outside the hospice praised the latest decision.
"There's a chance for a miracle," said Christine Marriott, who rushed to the hospice after hearing the news on TV. "Anything positive is a breath of life."
Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said it's hard to predict what would happen if the tube were reinserted because it's highly unusual to do that after life-prolonging treatments have been stopped.
He said that if her kidneys have already shut down, reinserting the tube at this point might prolong her life by just hours or days. However, it could also hasten her death, Morrison said, because it would supply fluids to a body that can no longer get rid of them.
The resulting fluid buildup could essentially drown Schiavo, and she could die gasping and choking, he said.
Morrison said Schiavo would have no awareness of this because of her persistent vegetative state, but reinserting the tube might "transform a peaceful death into one that can be very distressing for families and friends to witness."
Early Wednesday, a man was arrested when he tried to bring a plastic cup of water into the hospice. Officers stopped him at the gate as he shouted: "You don't know God from Godzilla!"
He became the 48th protester arrested since the tube was removed on a court order sought by her husband. Terri Schiavo suffered catastrophic brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped for several minutes because of a chemical imbalance apparently brought on by an eating disorder.
The Schindlers have maintained that their daughter would want to be kept alive.
Their attorneys raised the issue of the new request after a Saturday deadline set by the court, saying they have had more time to research the issues and have become convinced that the federal court in Tampa had "committed plain error when it reviewed only the state court case and outcome history."
Attorneys for the Schindlers have argued that Terri Schiavo's rights to life and privacy were being violated.
Federal courts were given jurisdiction to review Schiavo's case after Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation aimed at prolonging her life. But federal courts at three levels have rebuffed her parents.
Although supporters of the Schindlers have claimed the dehydrated woman is being denied comforts such as ice chips for her dry mouth or balm for chapped lips, Felos defended how Schiavo is being cared for.
"Obviously, the parents and the siblings are desperate. Desperation may lead to different perceptions," Felos told CNN. "I can only tell you what I've seen, and Terri is dying a very peaceful, cared-for death."
On Tuesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson prayed with the Schindlers and first lady Laura Bush said the government was right to have intervened on behalf of Schiavo.
Jackson was in Tallahassee on Wednesday, and met with Gov. Jeb Bush.