TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The state House passed a bill Thursday that could keep Terri Schiavo alive, less than 24 hours before the severely brain-damaged woman's feeding tube is scheduled to be removed.
The Senate began debating a more limited version of the bill as lawmakers rushed to beat the scheduled removal of Schiavo's feeding tube.
The legislative action was part of a last-minute flurry of attempts to save Schiavo's life. Congress was also considering legislation to move the case to the federal courts, Schiavo's parents appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Florida Circuit Court Judge George Greer scheduled a hearing Thursday to consider a request from the state to halt the removal of the tube.
The House bill would block the withholding of food and water from patients in a persistent vegetative state who didn't leave specific instructions refusing the artificial measure. It passed 78-37.
``This provides a safety net where the government stands up for the vulnerable who don't otherwise have a voice,'' said Republican Rep. Kevin Ambler.
Gov. Jeb Bush has strongly urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would save Schiavo, as it did in 2003. That law allowed Bush to order doctors to restore Schiavo's feeding tube six days after it had been removed. The law was later declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
``We have a responsibility to act, to deal with this issue,'' Bush said. ``It breaks my heart we're in a situation where it's possible this woman could starve to death.''
The Senate bill could also prevent Schiavo's death, but would only apply to cases where families disagreed on the patient's wishes.
Schiavo, 41, has been at the center of a long and bitter court battle between her parents and her husband, who wants to remove her feeding tube so she can die.
Schiavo 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.
Greer has granted Michael Schiavo permission to remove the feeding tube, a ruling a state appeals court upheld Wednesday. Without the feeding tube, Terri Schiavo would likely die in one to two weeks.
Late Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would delay removal of the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube by moving 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.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., urged his chamber to save Schiavo.
``If we don't act or if somebody does not act, a living person who has a level of consciousness, who is self-breathing will be starved to death here in the next two weeks,'' Frist said.
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the case raises ``a lot of complex issues'' and declined to comment on specific legislation. But he said Bush ``stands on the side of defending life.''
Also, Schiavo's parents filed an emergency motion at the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the removal of her feeding tube so lower courts can consider whether their daughter's religious freedom and due process rights have been violated.
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