With a furious legal and political battle raging outside her hospice room, doctors removed Terri Schiavo's feeding tube Friday after a judge rebuffed an unprecedented attempt by Congress to keep the brain-damaged woman alive.
Schiavo, 41, could die up to one to two weeks without the tube, provided no one intercedes and gets it reinserted -- as happened twice before.
The move came after Republicans on Capitol Hill used their subpoena power to demand that Schiavo be brought before a congressional hearing, saying removing the tube amounted to "barbarism." The attorney for Schiavo's husband shot back at a news conference, calling the subpoenas "nothing short of thuggery."
The judge presiding over the case ruled in the husband's favor early Friday afternoon and rejected the request from House attorneys to delay the removal, which he had previously ordered to take place at 1800 GMT. Felos said Michael Schiavo was at his wife's side shortly after the tube was disconnected.
Late Friday, the US Supreme Court, without comment, denied an emergency request from the House committee that issued the subpoenas to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube while the committee files appeals in the lower courts to have its subpoenas recognized.
The removal of the tube signals that an end may be near in a decade-long family feud between Schiavo's husband and her devoutly Roman Catholic parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. The parents have been trying to oust Michael Schiavo as their daughter's guardian and keep in place the tube that has kept her alive for more than 15 years.
Michael Schiavo says his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents dispute that, saying she could get better and that their daughter has laughed, cried, smiled and responded to their voices. Court-appointed physicians testified her brain damage was so severe that there was no hope she would ever have any cognitive abilities.
The effects of such feeding tubes being removed can be seen by the third or fourth day, when the patient's mouth begins to look dry and the eyes appear sunken. From days five to 10, respiration becomes irregular with periods of very fast and then very slow breathing. By the final days, kidney function declines, toxins begin accumulating in the body, and multiple organ systems fail from lack of nutrition.
Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when a chemical imbalance apparently brought on by an eating disorder caused her heart to stop beating for a few minutes. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding and hydration tube to keep her alive.
The Schindlers also said that Michael Schiavo wants their daughter dead so he can marry his longtime girlfriend, with whom he has young children. They have begged him to divorce their daughter, and let them care for her.