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The Center for An Accessible Society







Jan. 23, 2001


The Robert Wendland legal case is before California's Supreme Court, and media coverage is intensifying. A scheduled Time magazine story, an upcoming feature in People magazine and coverage on "The Today Show" are among just those that we have learned about.

Yesterday, ABC's "Good Morning America" featured a story on the case for the second time in a month. In its Jan. 4 segment, ABC's Diane Sawyer called the Wendland case the "story of two people, a wife and a mother, fighting over the life of a husband and a son."

"Seven years ago, Robert Wendland rolled his pickup truck and was left paralyzed and in a coma," Roger Cossack of CNN's "Burden of Proof" told Jan. 15 viewers. "Sixteen months later, he became 'minimally conscious.' Now Robert Wendland's wife Rose wants his feeding tube removed. Wendland's mother opposes this and has asked the court for the right to care for him."

A number of disability rights groups, including Not Dead Yet, The Brain Injury Assn., Inc., Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, The Arc, ADAPT, N.C.I.L. and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association filed an amicus brief in the case.

Florence Wendland attorney Janie Hickok Siess says media coverage has ignored the disability rights implications of the case. She has charged ABC in particular with being one-sided. On both Jan. 4 and Jan. 22 "Good Morning America" segments, she says, "Florence has been on tape, while Rose has been live with an opportunity to rebut Florence's commentary." Siess says that ABC flew Rose Wendland and her children to New York to appear live on the show.

The Wendland case made the front page of the Los Angeles Times Jan. 2, where it was the subject of Legal Affairs writer Maura Dolan's "Column One" piece ("Out Of A Coma, Into A Twilight" is no longer available free online but can be purchased at "This issue is huge," Oakland lawyer Jon Eisenberg told Dolan. (Eisenberg "represents bioethicists and others who support Rose's right to make the decision," wrote Dolan.) "It is going to touch nearly every one of us as we deal with our parents' aging and our own aging in years to come."

The most thorough coverage to date has been from CNN's "Burden of Proof". A transcript of the Jan. 15 segment, "A Life in Limbo: Should Robert Wendland be Allowed to Die?" is available online at

More on Siess's charges of one-sided coverage can be found online at

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