right to live
Court should respect the wishes of the mother of a man on feeding tubes. (6/2/01)
It's difficult to know how anyone would react in a similar situation. Your
husband suffers extensive brain damage in a car accident in 1993. Since
that time, he has been confined to a bed, connected to a feeding tube.
He cannot speak, eat on
his own, or walk.
As his wife, you and
your children cannot bear to see him live this way any longer. You feel
that your husband does not want to live this way.
After months of
anguish, you decide you want to remove the tube that gives him food and
water so he can die.
But your mother-in-law
wants him to live. She files suit to block your wishes.
This is a real-life
drama being played out in California in a right-to-die case involving
49-year-old Robert Wendland. It could just as well happen here.
Some say the decision
should be left up to you. Others say that if you want to get on with your
life, you should divorce Robert, and let his mother take care of him.
But you love Robert.
Isn't it possible to love someone so much that you want your loved one to
We can understand, for
instance, that you would not order extraordinary medical intervention if
your husband went into cardiac arrest.
But this is not the
case, Mrs. Wendland.
And, most important,
Robert's mother wants him to live. Don't you want to respect her wishes?
Doesn't she love him as much as you? Shouldn't you err on the side of life?
Fortunately, it appears
the California Supreme Court was reluctant this week to permit the removal
of the feeding tube.
Several justices on
Wednesday dwelled on whether Wendland is in a vegetative state. He is
conscious and responds to simple commands.
Janie Hickok Siess, an attorney for Wendland's mother, Florence Wendland, 78,
repeatedly told the court that Robert has cognitive ability and can
interact with his environment.
"Robert thinks and
Robert feels," Siess said. "He still has cognitive function, and
that's where the line has to be drawn."
But a Superior Court
judge who first heard evidence in the case decided Wendland was not
He can respond to simple
commands but shows no signs of being able to comprehend more.
Chief Justice Ronald M.
George did not seem persuaded by that argument.
"He can respond to
some questions ... move a peg to show 'yes' or 'no' and catch a ball,"
When asked if his name
was Robert, he indicated "yes." When asked if his name was
Michael, he indicated "no." When asked if he wanted to be left
alone, he used the "no" block. When asked if he wanted to die, he
did not respond.
"That to me shows
ambivalence," said Justice Joyce L. Kennard.
Robert's mother is not ambivalent. And as long as a loved one wants him to
live, he should be cared for with dignity and respect.