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Appellate Court Says Wife Has Right to Disconnect Husband’s Life Support

Appellate Court Says Wife Has Right to Disconnect Husband’s Life Support

DOUG WILLIS, Associated Press Writer

February 24, 2000

17:49 PST SACRAMENTO (AP) — An appellate court ruled Thursday that the wife of a Stockton man who suffered severe brain damage — and has been paralyzed and unable to communicate since a 1993 traffic accident — has the right to disconnect his life support over the objections of his mother.

But the ruling does not allow the removal of feeding tubes keeping Robert Wendland, 48, alive until a San Joaquin County probate court rehears the case.

Rose Wendland has been trying since 1995 to get court permission to let doctors remove feeding tubes which are keeping her husband alive.

But her efforts have been blocked by her mother-in-law, Florence Wendland. Robert Wendland’s brother has supported discontinuing life support, while his sister has opposed it.

Rose Wendland testified in a 1995 probate court hearing that three months before his Lodi-area accident, her husband told her she had done the right thing earlier that year in disconnecting life support for her ailing father and that he said “I would never want to live like that.”

Her brother-in-law, Mike Hofer, also testified that his brother told him he “would not want to be a vegetable.”

But the probate court ruled that when a patient has left no explicit instructions about disconnecting life support and family members disagree about his wishes, the burden of proof is on the party who wants to wants to discontinue life support to produce “clear and convincing evidence” of the patient’s wishes.

In a written opinion, Justices Richard Sims, Arthur Scotland and Fred Morrison of the state 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled the probate court erroneously ruled that Rose Wendland failed to meet the clear-and-convincing-evidence test.

However, the justices added, since the original hearing ended with the ruling that Rose Wendland hadn’t met that evidence test, her mother-in-law and other relatives never had an opportunity to rebut her testimony.

Therefore, rather than issuing a final ruling in Rose Wendland’s favor, they ordered the case sent back to the probate court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Speaking with reporters after the appellate court heard oral arguments last week, Rose Wendland said she only wants to allow her husband to “die with dignity” and that the decision should be made “by the person who knows him best, and that’s the children and myself.”

Florence Wendland’s attorney, Janie Hickok Siess, said it was imperative that a decision to let someone die must meet the highest legal tests.

“You can’t deprive a person of a fundamental right of the constitution unless you have clear and convincing evidence to do so,” she said.

Other Selected Articles on Robert Wendland Case

Out of a Coma, Into a Twilight . . . LA Times, May 31, 2001

New Twist in Cases Over Right to Die: Patient Is in Twilight State, Not in a Coma . . . San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 2001


ENDING LIFE SUPPORT: WHO DECIDES? . . . Transcript from CNN’s Talkback Live, May 30, 2001

Appellate Court Says Wife Has Right to Disconnect Husband’s Life Support . . . February 24, 2000

ACLU-Northern California Supports Man’s Right to End Life Support . . . ACLU News, January/February, 2001

California High Court to Ponder Rights on Medical Decisions. American Medical News. . . July 31, 2000

Lack Of Advance Directive Contributes To Family Tragedy . . . Elder Law Issues August 10, 1998 Vol. 6,