STOCKTON -- The wife of a man whose life became the subject of a closely watched right-to-die case asked the California Supreme Court on Wednesday to issue a ruling despite her husband's death this week.
"I would hope that families wouldn't have to go through what we went
through," Rose Wendland, Robert Wendland's legal conservator, said at a
news conference in Stockton. The California Supreme Court had been expected to
decide in several weeks whether Rose Wendland could remove a feeding and
hydration tube that kept her husband alive. The man's mother adamantly opposed
removing the tube.
With the tube still in place, Robert Wendland, 49, died Tuesday of pneumonia.
Wendland suffered severe brain damage in a 1993 vehicle accident. He was
conscious after the accident but could not communicate his wishes. No one knew
for sure how much awareness he possessed.
His case, Conservatorship of Robert Wendland, S087265, has been widely watched
because it could expand the ability of families to remove their loved ones
from life support. Courts had allowed feeding tubes to be withdrawn only from
patients who were in a vegetative state or terminally ill. Robert Wendland was
Chief Justice Ronald M. George said Wednesday that the court has decided cases
before that were technically moot "for the benefit of future
George said that unless the court issues an order to dismiss the case, a
ruling will be made this summer. Because the case is pending, George could not
provide more details.
Florence Wendland, Robert's mother, who fought her daughter-in-law to keep her
son alive, also wants the court to rule in the case, said Janie Hickok Siess,
The court heard arguments in May over what legal standard should be applied
before relatives are permitted to remove life support from conscious patients
who are not terminally ill. The court appeared to be siding with Robert's
mother in the dispute.
Rose Wendland said she wants the court to decide the case so that her many
years of legal battles will not have been "in vain."
The widow told reporters that she had just stepped out of Robert's hospital
room when he died at 2:40 p.m. at Lodi Memorial Hospital. His mother was with
Rose Wendland said she first learned her husband possibly had an infection on
July 2. By July 8, one of his lungs had collapsed, and doctors tried
unsuccessfully to drain it.
Doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia that day and suspected he also had
contracted another unidentified infection, said Lawrence Nelson, Rose
Doctors had given Robert antibiotics, but they were not effective, Nelson
said. Rose Wendland "made the decision that aggressive treatment was not
in his interest, and he was kept comfortable," Nelson said.
Siess said Florence Wendland wants to see Robert's medical records and has
requested an autopsy. She said she wants to know what medication Robert was
given and for how long.
"We are examining the circumstances of Robert's death and will take
whatever action we deem to be appropriate," the mother's lawyer said.
Doran Berg, a court-appointed lawyer for Robert Wendland, said Wednesday that
she had offered to disclose his medical information to Florence Wendland last
week on the condition that it not be shared with other parties. She said Siess
Rose Wendland, asked about her mother-in-law's renewed demand for the medical
records and an autopsy, told reporters: "As far as I am concerned, there
will be no way. They have no right."
She said she hoped the public had learned from her case to tell loved ones in
writing what sort of medical treatment to pursue in case of severe
"Let your loved ones know where you stand," she said. "And make
them promise to honor your wishes."
James Braden, another court-appointed attorney for Robert Wendland, said
Wednesday he was optimistic that Rose Wendland will win the case if the
Supreme Court decides to rule on it.
He said the court appeared confused about the level of Robert Wendland's
awareness. "The court did seem to be suggesting that he might be
competent to answer questions, which is not true at all," Braden said.
Braden said he expects the state law giving conservators wide authority will
Rose Wendland and her three children contended that Robert was estranged from
his mother and would not have wanted to live in his state. His mother said he
would never choose to die.
Doctors considered him minimally conscious. He could not talk, walk, eat,
drink or use a bathroom but could respond to a few simple commands.
His wife and three children said he had not recognized them since the accident
or communicated with them in any manner. His mother said he would kiss her
hand during her visits and sometimes cry.
Kerrie Wendland, 20, Robert's middle child, said her family never had a
relationship with her grandmother, and she was glad the conflict between the
families was over.
"I am looking forward to peace and quiet," she said.