Cape Cod Times | Editorials, June 2, 2001
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June 2, 2001






Sean Gonsalves
Appears Tuesdays

Francis Broadhurst
Appears Thursdays


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The right to live
California Supreme Court should respect the wishes of the mother of a man on feeding tubes. (6/2/01)

It's difficult to know how anyone would react in a similar situation. Your husband suffers extensive brain damage in a car accident in 1993. Since that time, he has been confined to a bed, connected to a feeding tube.

He cannot speak, eat on his own, or walk.

As his wife, you and your children cannot bear to see him live this way any longer. You feel that your husband does not want to live this way.

After months of anguish, you decide you want to remove the tube that gives him food and water so he can die.

But your mother-in-law wants him to live. She files suit to block your wishes.


This is a real-life drama being played out in California in a right-to-die case involving 49-year-old Robert Wendland. It could just as well happen here.


Some say the decision should be left up to you. Others say that if you want to get on with your life, you should divorce Robert, and let his mother take care of him.

But you love Robert. Isn't it possible to love someone so much that you want your loved one to die?

We can understand, for instance, that you would not order extraordinary medical intervention if your husband went into cardiac arrest.

But this is not the case, Mrs. Wendland.

And, most important, Robert's mother wants him to live. Don't you want to respect her wishes? Doesn't she love him as much as you? Shouldn't you err on the side of life?


Fortunately, it appears the California Supreme Court was reluctant this week to permit the removal of the feeding tube.

Several justices on Wednesday dwelled on whether Wendland is in a vegetative state. He is conscious and responds to simple commands.

Janie Hickok Siess, an attorney for Wendland's mother, Florence Wendland, 78, repeatedly told the court that Robert has cognitive ability and can interact with his environment.

"Robert thinks and Robert feels," Siess said. "He still has cognitive function, and that's where the line has to be drawn."

But a Superior Court judge who first heard evidence in the case decided Wendland was not cognitive.

He can respond to simple commands but shows no signs of being able to comprehend more.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George did not seem persuaded by that argument.

"He can respond to some questions ... move a peg to show 'yes' or 'no' and catch a ball," George observed.

When asked if his name was Robert, he indicated "yes." When asked if his name was Michael, he indicated "no." When asked if he wanted to be left alone, he used the "no" block. When asked if he wanted to die, he did not respond.

"That to me shows ambivalence," said Justice Joyce L. Kennard.

Clearly, however, Robert's mother is not ambivalent. And as long as a loved one wants him to live, he should be cared for with dignity and respect.


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