The Law: Terminating Life Sustaining Treatment
Selected Articles on the Robert Wendland Case
The state Supreme Court at a hearing in San Francisco, May 30, 2000 took up the question of how decisions should be made on whether to withdraw life support from someone with severe brain damage.
The court’s seven justices considered the case of Robert Wendland of Stockton, California, who became severely cognitively impaired after a 1993 accident in his pick-up truck.
At issue is the right of his conservator, in this case his wife, Rose Wendland, to discontinue treatment she believes Robert Wendland would have refused. His mother, Florence Wendland, and a sister, Rebekah Vinson, contend that withdrawing artificial hydration and nutrition violates his constitutional right to life.
Unlike the patients in related cases, Robert Wendland is not in a persistent vegetative state. He is severely brain damaged and cognitively impaired. But he has limited consciousness, and the two sides disagree on his current ability to interact with his external environment.
Wendland’s wife and conservator, Rose Wendland, says statements he made before his injury show that he would not want to be kept alive in a near-vegetative state. The couple’s children and Robert’s brother agree.
Wendland’s mother and sister, however, oppose removal of the feeding tube.
A state law allows conservators to withhold life-sustaining treatment if they act in good faith based on medical advice, abide by any wishes made known by the patient and consider the best interests of the patient.
Wendland’s mother and sister say the courts should allow such decisions only when there is clear and convincing evidence to support them. Rose Wendland contends the law allows a lesser standard of a preponderance of evidence.
The state high court took the case under submission and has 90 days to make a decision.
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
California Supreme Court Grapples with Pulling Plug on Accident Victim . . . San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 2001
Ending Life Support: Who Decides? . . . Transcript from CNN’s Talkback Live, May 30, 2001
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
Appellate Court Says Wife Has Right to Disconnect Husband’s Life Support . . . Associated Press, February 24, 2000
Lack Of Advance Directive Contributes To Family Tragedy . . . Elder Law Issues August 10, 1998 Vol. 6,