Stretching life too thin

Rest in peace, Robert Wendland. He's the 49-year-old California brother, father, son and husband who accidentally became the latest right-to-die national test case. His death of pneumonia Tuesday, however, does not relieve a willfully inattentive American society of the need to develop moral and ethical guidelines for end-of-life decisions.

It probably shouldn't be surprising that a society that cannot yet agree on when life begins also cannot agree on when it may end.

May the Wendland family, fractured over continued feeding-tube nourishment of their minimally conscious member, finally find peace. Wendland who couldn't eat, drink, walk or talk like most of us had written no living will on his end-of-life wishes because daily life is great for each of us until, suddenly, it isn't. His car crashed, crushing his brain. He lingered at great emotional and financial cost in suspended animation, unable to communicate, likely unable to think, since the first President Bush left office.

In a bizarre, unintentionally cruel way, the Wendlands and others become victims of the wondrous medical technology that can sustain the broken body indefinitely but not cure it. So, unguided, his family fought, until pneumonia was allowed to impose a conclusion. Judges may yet decide who in the family had the right to decide Wendland's fate because his case is not the first nor last of its kind.

It need not be this painful or drawn-out. But change requires many individuals to do a few simple things to anticipate their own inevitable demise, a puzzlingly complex process, it seems.

Los Angeles Times

July 21, 2001


Copyright 2001 The Daily Camera.