Police presence increased as Schiavo's life ebbs away


As Terri Schiavo's life ebbed away in a Florida hospice yesterday, the police presence around the building was increased, with snipers on the roof, armed officers patrolling the grounds and police vehicles blocking each entrance, writes Conor O'Clery in New York.

The parents of the brain-damaged woman, whose feeding tube was removed 10 days ago despite their objections, asked supporters to return home to spend Easter with their families. However, crowds of sympathisers continued to congregate outside, offering prayers for the 41-year-old woman.

The extra police presence coincided with a report in the Miami Herald that said a team of state law agents was prepared at one point to seize Ms Schiavo, hours after a judge ordered that she was not to be removed from the hospice.

The agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were allegedly acting under the direction of the State Department of Children and Families, and had set out to the hospice in Pinellas Park to remove her to a hospital and have the feeding tube reinserted.

They were said to be acting under a legal exemption that allows a judge's order to be frozen when appealed by an agency. Pinellas Park police told them they would enforce the judge's order, the Herald said, quoting police sources, and the agents backed down rather than force their way in.

After the incident Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has been under intense pressure to act to prolong Ms Schiavo's life, said he did not have the legal authority to take her into protective custody.

State officials denied that any showdown had occurred. However, the prospect of a confrontation between two branches of law enforcement underscores the intense emotions generated by the case and the dangers of a full-blown constitutional crisis. Armed police officers at the scene told The Irish Times on Thursday they were ready for "any eventuality" but declined to go into details.

The protests at the hospice have been peaceful other than for symbolic attempts to bring water to Ms Schiavo, which end in arrests.

Many right-to-life activists at the hospice see the issue as one of good versus evil - reinforced by the coincidence that the fight for Ms Schiavo, a Catholic, is happening at Easter, the pinnacle of the Christian calendar.

Friends of Ms Schiavo's parents said she was given morphine yesterday as her breathing had become increasingly laboured and her tongue and eyes were bleeding. However, the lawyer for her husband said yesterday morning: "She is resting comfortably. Her breathing does not appear to be shallow."

Schiavo ruling may be legal but it is still wrong: page 11