11th Circuit Denies Appeal in Schiavo Case

The 11th Circuit has denied the petition of Terri Schiavo’s parents to have her feeding tube reinserted.

Schiavo’s Parents Lose Appeal to Have Feeding Tube Reinserted (Bloomberg)

A U.S. federal appeals court today dismissed a bid to order doctors to reinsert the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman in a right-to-die case that has split her family and the nation. Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, “failed to demonstrate a substantial case on the merits of any of their claims,” Court of Appeals Judges Ed Carnes and Frank Hull ruled in Atlanta. Judge Charles Wilson dissented. The decision upholds yesterday’s refusal by a U.S. District Court in Tampa to order doctors to reinsert the tube, which was removed five days ago.


“There’s no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo,” Carnes and Hull wrote in the opinion. “We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision concerning a question of law. In the end, and no matter how much we wish Mrs. Schiavo had never suffered such a horrible accident, we are a nation of laws.”

In the seven years, 19 Florida judges have heard the case and all sided with Michael Schiavo.

The Schindlers will appeal today’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported, citing Rex Sparklin, a lawyer with the firm representing them. The high court refused last week to hear a previous appeal by the Schindlers and one filed by the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform. When those failed, Congress returned to Washington from recess to pass the law allowing the parents a federal review. Bush came back from vacation to sign it.

Today’s decision upholds U.S. District Judge James Whittemore ruling yesterday that denied an emergency request by Schiavo’s parents.

Wilson, in his dissenting opinion, said the federal rulings go against Congress’s intention in authorizing judicial review. “We have Congress’s clear mandate requiring the federal courts to consider the actual merits of Plaintiff’s claims,” Wilson wrote. “Congress intended for this case to be reviewed with a fresh set of eyes. We are not called upon to consider the wisdom of this legislation. In granting this injunction we would merely effectuate Congress’s intent.”

Wilson’s argument strikes me as the likeliest path for success here. While I’m of the view that the law here is unconstitutional, courts are required by law to presume constitutionality when considering injunctive relief.

The fact remains, though, that most evidence points to the Schindlers losing on the merits. Given that a fundamental requirement to grant a temporary injunction is the probability of winning once the case goes to trial, this creates a Catch-22 for the parents.

Update (0834): Supreme Court Next Stop for Schiavo Case (Fox)

In a last-ditch attempt to save their daughter’s life, Bob and Mary Schindler prepared Wednesday to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. The Schindlers’ lawyer said he expected to file the appeal before the court, which previously refused to hear the case. “The Schindlers will be filing an appropriate appeal to save their daughter’s life,” said Rex Sparklin, an attorney with the law firm representing the parents.

They also provide a PDF copy of the 11th Circuit’s statement denying the injunction.

AP has more details on the 11th Circuit’s ruling and analysis as to why the Schindlers’ chances of getting relief from the U.S. Supreme Court are slim.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. S. Ann M. says:

    I am ashamed of America, no wonder other nations see us as barbaric ruthless murderers! When things get unconvenient in our little comforting world, we decide to take life. As if life was nothing. I hope that those that made the decision on the fate of this woman “Terry,” today, don’t regret tomorrow and are faced with a taste of their own medicine by having a “senseless political judge” deciding on the termination of either their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. We don’t even give this kind of barbaric death to criminals!