THE legal fight to keep brain-damaged Terri Schiavo alive appeared to be over last night, but a new row erupted between her husband and her parents over what will happen to her body after she dies.
Michael Schiavo, who had his wife’s feeding tube removed by court order ten days ago, has made arrangements for her to be cremated and her ashes interred in his family’s plot in Pennsylvania.
But Bob and Mary Schindler want their daughter to have a Roman Catholic funeral service and to be buried near their home in Clearwater, Florida. They are also furious that her husband denied her an Easter communion.
The latest animosity in the bitterly contested right-to-die case emerged as Mrs Schiavo, 41, yesterday entered her ninth full day without food or water at a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. Doctors have said she could survive for up to two weeks.
Michael Schiavo’s lawyer, George Felos, said a judge had already backed the cremation plan. "My client will scrupulously follow the court order," he said. "Her ashes will be interred in the Schiavo family plot in Pennsylvania, where Terri and Michael grew up."
Brother Paul O’Donnell, the Schindlers’ spiritual adviser, said it was a further assault by Mr Schiavo on his wife’s rights as a Catholic after the rejection of her parents’ communion request. "She has been denied the precious body and blood of Christ in violation of her religious freedom," he said.
Mrs Schiavo’s brother, Bobby, said he had advised his parents not to make any further visits to the hospice because of her condition. "My mother has to experience her daughter dying in this fashion," he said. "It’s not painless and it’s not peaceful."
Mr Schiavo, backed by several court judgments during a 12-year legal campaign, has always insisted his wife had once told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. His doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state, leaving her awake but unable to swallow or talk.
Her parents say she could improve but that her husband has denied her treatment, despite winning a malpractice pay-out of more than $1 million for her care and rehabilitation in 1992. Mr Schiavo, who has two children with a woman he met ten years ago, has refused to surrender his status as his wife’s legal guardian.
Congress stepped into the row last week when President George Bush signed into law a bill that sent the case for federal court review. But the Schindlers’ efforts to have the feeding tube restored have been thwarted by a succession of state and federal judges and the US Supreme Court.
The latest setback came late on Saturday when the Florida Supreme Court rejected a claim that Mrs Schiavo had started to speak the words "I want to live" when she was told the tube was to come out.
Outside the hospice yesterday, about 30 protesters staged an Easter Sunday service. Three of them, including a pastor from a pro-life Christian group, were arrested as they tried to enter the hospice with bread and wine to administer communion to Mrs Schiavo.
Last night, half a dozen people in wheelchairs got out and lay in the hospice’s driveway, shouting: "We’re not dead yet." Police were loudly heckled, prompting Bobby Schindler to come out and ask protesters to tone down their behaviour. He told them: "You are not speaking for our family."
The Schindlers have pinned their last hopes on Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, who, they say, has the authority to take Terri into the state’s protection.