Stockton woman who in February won
the right to terminate life support for her long-incapacitated
husband won't be pulling the plug anytime soon.
On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court granted review of the
four-month-old Sacramento ruling, which was the first by a
California appeal court to authorize withdrawing life-sustaining
treatment from someone who isn't terminally ill or in a persistent
All seven justices voted to hear Conservatorship of
Wendland, S087265, leaving lawyers in the case wondering whether
the court intends to issue a definitive statement on a conservator's
power to make life or death decisions.
"One can't really speculate because they could be taking it just
because it's an important case and to come to the same result as the
Third District [Court of Appeal], just putting their stamp on it,"
said San Francisco lawyer James Braden, who represents the interests
of Robert Wendland, the central figure of the case who has been
hospitalized for nearly seven years. "Maybe they think they need to
say something about" a non-persistent vegetative state case.
Sacramento's Third District Court of Appeal broke new ground with
its ruling on Feb. 24, when it held that conservators -- who make
health care decisions for mentally impaired patients -- can
terminate life support for someone in a semi-conscious state. But
they set a high hurdle for such conservators by saying that they
first must prove by clear and convincing evidence that their
decision was made in good faith based on sound medical advice and
took into consideration the patient's best interests and prior
Wendland, who is nearing 50, was injured in a one-vehicle
accident in September 1993 while driving intoxicated. Though he has
some limited motor functions, he has not spoken since the wreck.
His wife, Rose, exercised her conservator power in 1995 by
seeking to terminate life support, based on her claim that Robert
told her more than once during their marriage that he would never
want to be kept alive artificially.
Doctors acquiesced, but were blocked by Robert Wendland's mother,
Florence, and a sister, Rebekah Vinson, who argue that Wendland
would want to live.
The case has garnered national attention, with Wendland's wife
getting amicus curiae support at the appellate level from
groups such as the California Medical Association, and his mother
getting the backing of organizations such as Not Dead Yet, a
nationwide disability rights group. CMA and others say conservators
should have the right to act as surrogate decision-makers, while
their opponents contend that such powers would lead to widespread
In siding with Rose Wendland, the Third District cited
Conservatorship of Drabick, 200 Cal.App.3d 185, a 1988 Sixth
District ruling that upheld a conservator's authority under Probate
Code 2355 to make life-and-death decisions. Though that case
involved someone in a vegetative state, unlike Wendland, the Third
District held that the ruling could be interpreted broadly.
Robert Wendland's mother and sister petitioned the high court,
challenging the constitutionality of the Probate Code, and arguing
that the Third District ruling could have "far-reaching
Their lawyer, Janie Hickok Siess, was pleased by the court's
decision to review the ruling.
"It's a reflection of how seriously this case needs to be looked
at and it's an indication of the importance of the issue," said
Siess, an associate in Stockton's Brown, Hall, Shore & McKinley.
"It clearly tells me there's some disagreement with the Third