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Passion for Terri's Law must relent to reason

There they are, words that all but jump off the page. The state Supreme Court has finally said what needed to be said about Terri Schiavo. Reason must trump passion in this endlessly litigated case.

"Our hearts can fully comprehend the grief so fully demonstrated by Theresa's family members on this record. But our hearts are not the law. What is in the Constitution always must prevail over emotion. Our oaths as judges require that this principle is our polestar, and it alone."

In every way, the ruling issued last Thursday was remarkable, and not only for those powerful words of Chief Justice Barbara J. Pariente.

The ruling was unanimous. Even Gov. Bush's appointees abandoned him.

It was clear. The court unequivocally said that Terri's Law was unconstitutional, because it violated the separation of powers among the three branches of government. Put plainly, it was improper for the governor and Legislature to big-foot on the authority of the judge who said it was all right for Michael Schiavo to withdraw nutrition from his wife and let her die.

The court said Terri's Law was problematic on other grounds: If the Legislature and governor were allowed to circumvent every law they didn't like, judicial decisions could be thrown out on a public whim or by political pressure. That's what happened last year, when conservative Christians and groups representing the disabled lobbied for the governor and Legislature to intervene.

When you read the 30-page opinion, you can almost hear a door slam shut _ on the hopes of people waiting for a miracle to restore Terri Schiavo to her healthy self. But there's no lock on that door. Her supporters will not give up, no matter the decree of robed strangers sitting in Tallahassee.

Time and again, Schiavo's parents find ways to keep the case alive. They're still at it. Even if the governor decides not to appeal the Supreme Court decision, Bob and Mary Schindler continue their challenges in a Pinellas circuit court. While they're at it, there's little chance Terri Schiavo's feeding tube will be removed. So you can see why they grab at any slim idea of a legal argument.

The Schindlers have tried repeatedly to get Michael Schiavo booted as his wife's guardian. They have even invoked the words of the pope.

They've said, in court papers, that removing the feeding tube and letting her die would "imperil her immortal soul."

Schiavo is Catholic, and last spring, Pope John Paul II called it morally wrong to withhold nutrition from a person in a vegetative state. So the lawyer for the Schindlers argues that Terri does not want to die because she wouldn't want to defy the pope. A hearing on the issue will be held in circuit court Thursday.

I wade through this and sigh. Somehow, there has to be an end to the decadelong struggle. Somehow, Michael Schiavo's unbroken successes in court must translate into letting him carry out his wife's wish to die. Everything else _ the constant maneuvering, the governor's intervention, the relentless lobbying _ is just delay.

So what will happen when the last brief is filed, the last argument heard, the last ruling issued and Terri Schiavo, finally, passes? What will the thousands of her faithful supporters do?

I admire their constancy and commitment. Nevertheless they scare me. They seem to have contempt for the law. Can all the judges who have handled this case really be wrong?

The Supreme Court has done its best to inject some sanity to the Schiavo story. The court acknowledged the love and faith that propels true believers in the cause of Terri Schiavo. But it also said enough's enough. The fight cannot go on forever.

You can reach Mary Jo Melone at or (813) 226-3402.