If McNatt had
allowed Wendland's life-sustaining feeding tube to be removed, it would
have been a first for a California court. No judge has endorsed
withdrawing life support from a person in Wendland's condition, conscious
but unable to communicate because of serious brain damage from a 1993 car
Wendland's mother, Florence
Wendland, and sister Rebekah Vinson, who fought since July 1995 to keep
him alive, met McNatt's decision with relieved tears.
are on top of the world," Vinson said. "We are going to
relax for the first time in 2 1/2 years."
Wendland, who testified that her husband did not have a living will but
had told her he would not want to live without being a "father,
husband and provider," sat in stunned silence and quickly left the
Stockton courtroom without comment.
described Rose Wendland as one of the most selfless and devoted wives he
has seen, but he said that to rule in her favor, he would have to extend
the bounds of California law.
I must err, I am going to err on the side of caution. It is
necessary that I choose life," McNatt said. "I am not
ready to start down that slippery slope without some form of
which McNatt predicted would be appealed, came 1 1/2 hours after the court
day usually ends and before Wendland's mother and sister presented their
Elements of the case
have been considered by the state Court of Appeal and the California
Supreme Court. The case also has grabbed headlines in national
magazines, won attention on Internet bulletin boards and aired on the TV
newsmagazine "Dateline NBC."
the trial, Rose Wendland testified that she asked in 1995 that her husband
be allowed to die because he had shown little significant improvement
since a September 1993 traffic accident. He was driving drunk, and
his car overturned off an Interstate 5 onramp at Highway 12.
has spent nearly four years at Lodi Memorial Hospital West, in a medical
state that many found difficult to describe. One doctor testified
Tuesday that Robert Wendland is "minimally conscious."
Robert Wendland is able to perform some simple tasks, such as identifying
a colored peg and propelling a wheelchair with his foot, Rose Wendland has
said those are not meaningful enough functions for her husband to live.
motives, she has said, were to fulfill his whishes and allow him to die
with dignity. Family members had testified that Robert Wendland was
a man who enjoyed boating and spending time with his children and hated
being dependent on others.
least six doctors and ethicists who had testified in the nearly two=month
trial said Robert Wendland has little chance for meaningful
recovery. They agreed it is ethically appropriate to let him die.
appointed to be an independent voice in the highly emotional proceedings,
closed her case Tuesday, stating she is convinced that Robert Wendland
told his wife he would want to die. She declined comment Tuesday
Rose Wendland also
declined comment, but her attorney, Stephen Scott, said he was
"absolutely shocked" by McNatt's decision. He said he does
not know what their next step will be.
early ruling came as a surprised because Florence Wendland's attorney, Janie
Hickok Siess, had not yet begun to present her case that Wendland should
live. She argued Tuesday afternoon that neither Scott nor Berg had
presented adequate evidence and urged the judge to rule on the case on
very pleasantly surprised," Siess said. "Robert is going to
live. He is not going to be starved and dehydrated to death."
McNatt ruled in favor of sustaining Robert Wendland's life, he said the
case probably will continue to haunt him in the early morning hours as it
has many nights over the past two years.
don't know at this point whether here today I am preserving Robert's life
or whether I am sentencing him to life," McNatt said.