The House of Representatives stepped in with legislation to delay removal of the feeding tube, possibly as early as Friday, from a brain-damaged Florida woman whose husband has been given permission by a state court to let her die.
The House acted late Wednesday evening after a Florida appeals court refused, earlier in the day, to block the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.
Her husband has battled her parents over his efforts to allow her to die, which he contends she would prefer rather than live in a vegetative state.
The House bill, passed on a voice vote, would move such a case to federal court. Federal judges have twice turned down efforts by the parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, to move the case out of Florida courts, citing a lack of jurisdiction.
Senate Republicans are introducing a separate bill to give Schiavo and her family standing in federal court, and they hope it can be debated on Thursday, a GOP aide said.
Under the House legislation, a federal judge would decide whether withholding or withdrawing food, fluids or medical treatment from an incapacitated person violates the Constitution or U.S. law.
It would apply only to incapacitated people who had not left directives dealing with being kept alive artificially and for whom a state judge had authorized the withholding of food or medical treatment.
Schiavo, 41, suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped temporarily, and court-appointed doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, says she told him she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents disagree that was her wish and say she could improve with proper treatment.
Florida Circuit Judge George Greer has granted Michael Schiavo permission to remove the feeding tube, a ruling a state appellate court upheld Wednesday. Without the feeding tube, which the state court allowed to be removed as early as Friday, Terri Schiavo would likely die in one to two weeks.
"What's going on in Florida regarding Terri Schiavo is nothing short of inhumane," said House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who introduced the bill with Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla.
Some House members criticized the bill, which Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called "a dangerously reckless way to deal with some serious issues."
"It does not deal just with feeding tubes. It would allow intervention in any decision affecting any kind of medical care. Read the bill," Nadler said.
The Florida appeals court said in Wednesday's ruling that the issues the Schindlers' raised were not new ones and had been dealt with previously by numerous courts.
"Not only has Mrs. Schiavo's case been given due process, but few, if any similar cases have ever been afforded this heightened level of process," Chief Judge Chris Altenbernd wrote.
The court also rejected the Department of Children & Families' request for a 60-day stay while that agency investigates allegations that Terri Schiavo has been abused.
The Schindler's planned to ask the Supreme Court to consider whether their daughter's religious freedom and due process rights have been violated.