A U.S. federal appeals court refused early Wednesday to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, denying the latest emergency request by the severely brain-damaged woman's parents to keep her alive.
A panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling that the parents "failed to demonstrate a substantial case on the merits of any of their claims."
"There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo," the ruling said. "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."
But Judge Charles R. Wilson said in his dissent that Schiavo's "imminent" death would end the case before it could be fully considered. "In fact, I fail to see any harm in reinserting the feeding tube," he wrote.
Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, vowed another appeal Wednesday.
"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.
The Schindlers said Tuesday that their daughter was "fading quickly" and might die at any moment. Her feeding tube was disconnected on Friday, and doctors have said that Schiavo, 41, could survive one to two weeks without water and nutrients.
The latest court ruling came less than 24 hours after U.S. District Judge James Whittemore of Tampa, Florida, rejected the parents' request to have the tube reinserted, saying they had not established a "substantial likelihood of success" at a trial on their claim that Schiavo's religious and due process rights have been violated.
A man who answered Bob Schindler's cellular phone declined comment Wednesday.
The Schindlers have been locked for years in a battle with Schiavo's husband over whether her feeding tube should be disconnected. State courts have sided with Michael Schiavo, who insists his wife told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially.
Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
Her parents argue that she could get better and that she would never have wanted to be cut off from food and water.
Even before the parents' appeal was filed with the 11th Circuit, Michael Schiavo urged the court not to grant an emergency request to restore nutrition.
"That would be a horrific intrusion upon Mrs. Schiavo's personal liberty," said the filing by his attorney, George Felos. He filed a response to the Schindlers' appeal and said he would go to the U.S. Supreme Court if the tube were ordered reconnected.
Demonstrators who gathered outside Terri Schiavo's hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, decried the decision early Wednesday.
"This is a clear cut case of judicial tyranny. All the judges who have ruled against Terri are tyrants, and we fully expected this decision," said Tammy Melton, 37, a high school teacher from Monterey, Tenn.
On Tuesday, the Schindlers arrived at Terri's hospice and pleaded with state lawmakers to save their daughter's life.
"Please, senators, for the love of God, I'm begging you, don't let my daughter die of thirst," Mary Schindler said before she broke down and was escorted away.
Florida lawmakers previously have failed to pass legislation that could have prevented the removal of the tube. They may consider another bill Wednesday, but state Sen. Daniel Webster said he has yet to persuade any lawmakers to change their votes.
In court documents, the Schindlers said their daughter began "a significant decline" late Monday. Her eyes were sunken and dark, and her lips and face were dry.
"While she still made eye contact with me when I spoke to her, she was becoming increasingly lethargic," Bob Schindler said in the papers. "Terri no longer attempted to verbalize back to me when I spoke to her."
Louise Cleary, a spokeswoman at Woodside Hospice, said she could not discuss Terri Schiavo's condition for reasons of privacy.
Over the weekend, Republicans in Congress pushed through unprecedented emergency legislation aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life by allowing the case to be reviewed by federal courts.
In his dissenting opinion Wednesday, Wilson addressed the congressional actions.
"Congress intended for this case to be reviewed with a fresh set of eyes," Wilson wrote. "Today, we are not called upon to second-guess the wisdom of Congress, but to apply the law it has passed."
Dozens of protesters have been gathering outside the hospice, virtually all of them calling for the tube to be reinserted. They carried signs and shouted through bullhorns, and a Catholic Mass was celebrated. One woman was arrested Tuesday for trespassing after trying to bring Schiavo a cup of water.
But Richard Avant, who lives down the street from the hospice, carried a sign reading "Honor her wishes."
"We represent the silent majority, if you look at the polls," Avant said. "We agree that Congress overstepped their bounds."
President George W. Bush's administration "would have preferred a different ruling" from Whittemore, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "We hope that they would be able to have relief through the appeals process."
The Justice Department also filed a court statement, saying an injunction was "plainly warranted" to carry out the wishes of Congress to provide federal court jurisdiction over the case.
At the same time, Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, praised Tuesday's ruling. "What this judge did is protect the freedom of people to make their own end-of-life decisions without the intrusion of politicians," he said.
ERRIN HAINES, Jill Barton Associated Press