00:29 PDT SAN FRANCISCO (AP) --
The man at the center of a right-to-die
case before the California Supreme Court died of complications
from pneumonia, prompting questions on whether the justices will
rule on the precedent-setting case.
Robert Wendland died Tuesday at Lodi
Memorial Hospital after a bout with pneumonia, doctors said.
Wendland, who was 49, had been paralyzed and virtually unable to
communicate since a 1993 traffic accident. He suffered severe
brain damage and was kept alive by a feeding tube that his wife
wanted to remove so he could die.
The high court was expected to rule by
next month on the issue of when conservators could remove life
support from incapacitated patients. But the death now means the
court is not required to rule because the case has been mooted
by Wendland's passing.
Wendland's plight has reignited national
debate over when loved ones can make such directives to pull the
plug when no will or other written document verifies those
wishes. An estimated 15 percent of U.S. adults have drafted such
wills or designated such powers to others.
During oral arguments in the case in May,
Wendland's future took center stage before the California
justices, three decades after a New Jersey court said the family
of Karen Ann Quinlan had the right to withdraw medical treatment
to their comatose daughter, who was classified in a permanent
It was not the first right-to-die case
before California's justices. In 1993, the high court said
mentally competent adults may refuse lifesaving medical
treatment. That case came three years after the U.S. Supreme
Court, ruling in a Missouri case, said there was a
constitutional right to withdraw life-sustaining medical
treatment, but left it up to the states to devise the legal
At issue in the Wendland case is whether
statements Wendland made to his wife Rose before his near-fatal
traffic accident in Lodi -- such as saying he did not want to
live like a vegetable -- are enough proof to allow doctors to
remove the tubes that kept the 49-year-old former auto parts
An appeals court said those statements,
and doctors at a Lodi hospital agreeing with the decision, are
all that is necessary to end the life of the father of three.
But Robert's mother, Florence Wendland,
claimed her son is not a vegetable and therefore should not have
the tubes removed, because those were not his wishes. Doctors
say Robert has some ability to think and to sometimes move in
his hospital bed, but has no ability to communicate whether he
wants to live or die.
It was a twilight state providing him no
means to care for himself.
While the justices now are not bound to
rule on the case, and before Wendland's death were expected to
decide the case by late August, Rose Wendland said in an
interview late Tuesday that she wanted the court to rule anyway.
"Yes, I want them to," she said.
Janie Siess, the mother's attorney who
urged the court not to allow the wife to pull the plug, said she
also wanted the court to rule on the case.
"It's a life or death question that
they must decide," she said.
The case is Conservatorship of Robert