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Judge denies feed-tube plea

Pinellas Park (Florida), March 22 (Reuters): A federal judge refused to order the resumption of feeding for brain-damaged Florida woman Terri Schiavo today in a blow to the parents, who have support from the US Congress and President George W. Bush in trying to keep her alive.

US district judge James Whittemore issued a 13-page ruling rejecting a request by Schiavo's parents for the tube, which was removed on Friday under a state court order, to be re-inserted pending a fresh review of the case.

The judge took up the case in a two-hour hearing yesterday in Tampa, Florida, after Congress rushed through a special law on Schiavo over the weekend. The highly unusual congressional intervention allowed the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to go to federal court in their effort to keep Schiavo alive.

Whittemore acknowledged the gravity of the consequences in denying the request for an emergency order to restore the feeding tube, but said he was bound to follow the law.

'The court is constrained to apply the law to the issues before it, as plaintiffs have not established a substantial likelihood of the success of the merits of their case,' he said in his ruling.

The parents, who have battled for years against state court verdicts that Schiavo would not have wanted to live in her condition, were likely to appeal quickly to the 11th US circuit court of appeals in Atlanta, Georgia.

'We were so encouraged when Congress and the President signed into law this bill and thought that my sister's feeding tube was going to be re-inserted and to get this news this morning, I'm just, I'm at a loss,' Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, told NBC's Today show.

'I'm sure it will be appealed. But it just seems to my family that these judges are adamant on seeing that my sister dies,' he said on ABC's Good Morning America.

Schiavo's feeding tube was removed on Friday on the order of the Florida court that first ruled five years ago that the tube could be taken out. Experts said she could be expected to live for one to two weeks without it.

Schiavo suffered a heart attack in 1990 that left her in what courts have declared a 'persistent vegetative state.' State courts have consistently sided with Schiavo's husband and legal guardian, Michael Schiavo, in finding that she would not wish to live in this state.

Whittemore had made clear at yesterday's hearing that he could issue the emergency order only if he believed the Schindlers would be likely to succeed when the full case was heard in the federal court.

Schiavo's parents have argued their daughter responds to them and could improve with treatment, and in recent weeks their campaign to keep her alive was joined by anti-abortion activists and Christian conservatives who lobbied intensely in Washington to win lawmakers' support.

Congress interrupted its Easter holiday to pass the Schiavo bill and Bush cut short a brief Texas vacation to sign it. The law allowed the parents to take the case to federal court.

In their request for a new review of the case, the Schindlers, who are Roman Catholics, argued several violations of their daughter's rights, including the right to due process and to practice a religion.

But Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, told the court that the two sides were back in court because of 'popular political clamour' and he said it would be 'a horrific intrusion on Schiavo's liberty' to re-insert her feeding tube.

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