|(07-19) 14:00 PST
-- Both sides in an unresolved right-to-die case have asked the
state Supreme Court in San Francisco to go ahead with a ruling,
even though the severely disabled Stockton man at the center of
the case has died.
Robert Wendland, 49, died of pneumonia in a Lodi hospital on
Tuesday. He suffered severe brain damage in a 1993 accident in his
pick-up truck and was described as minimally conscious and in a
His wife and conservator, Rose Wendland, and their three
children wanted doctors to remove a feeding tube, while his
mother, Florence Wendland, and a sister wanted him kept alive. A
court-appointed lawyer representing Robert Wendland supported his
The state high court heard arguments on the case on May 30 and
has until Aug. 28 either to issue a ruling or to dismiss the case
as moot because of Wendland's death.
If the court proceeds with the case, its ruling could break new
legal ground in the area of right-to-die disputes.
Courts have previously allowed removal of life support in cases
where a patient is terminally ill or in a coma-like state. But the
rules are unclear on how a family should make such decisions when
a patient is in a near-vegetative state.
Rose Wendland argued that statements Robert Wendland made
before his injury showed he would not have wanted to be kept alive
in that state. A California law allows conservators to withhold
life support if they act in good faith based on medical advice,
abide by the patient's wishes and consider the patient's best
Wendland's mother and sister contend there must be clear and
convincing evidence of the patient's wishes, which they say was
lacking in this case. They also argue the law is unconstitutional.
The lawyers for Rose, Florence and Robert Wendland all
submitted letters to the court yesterday asking it to proceed with
its deliberations because of the importance of the issues
Janie Siess, an attorney for the mother, wrote that the dispute
has raged "at great expense -- emotionally, physically,
psychologically, spiritually and indeed financially -- to all
parties" since 1995. She said numerous other California
families could find themselves in the same position.