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Quarterly Newsletter
A publication of the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities

THE OPEN DOOR Newsletter

                 THE OPEN DOOR
                December, 2000
               Vol. 12, Number 4
             A publication of the 
   Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities
          754 North President Street
          Jackson, Mississippi 39202
          601/969-0601 (Voice or TDD)
            1-800-748-9420 (V/TDD)
              601/969-1662 (FAX)
Robert Wendland --- life, liberty and  ?
By: Carol Cleigh
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created
equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable
rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of
U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776
     Very soon, the California Supreme Court will hear the
case of Robert Wendland.  Whatever its decision, it will have
far-reaching and long-term effects upon the lives of people with
disabilities ---- especially those who have cognitive disabilities. 
Are people with disabilities among the "all men" who are created
equal or not?  Is it a self-evident truth that disabled people have
an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness or
     Robert Wendland acquired physical and cognitive
disabilities as a result of an auto accident.  He is definitely not in
a coma, nor is he in a "persistent vegetative state."  He is aware
and awake and clearly interacts with his environment.  He made
significant progress in rehab.  Due to swallowing difficulty, he
uses a g-tube for "nutrition and hydration" (food and water).  His
wife has been named his conservator and she wants the g-tube
removed to starve/dehydrate him to death.  Mr. Wendland's
mother and sister object to his wife's plan.  There is no "living
will" or other document that presents" clear and convincing"
evidence of what Robert would have wanted in these
circumstances.  His wife is using an off hand comment he made
while he was drunk a week before his accident to justify her
plan, even if he now objects (he can't speak). 
     Mrs. Wendland didn't have to work very hard to justify
her plan to the hospital's 'ethics' committee.  They readily
agreed to have him transferred to a nursing home where he
would have been killed.  He'd be dead today if a nurse hadn't
risked being fired to share her concern with Robert's sister.  In
today's medical economics, it is not surprising that hospitals
make it easy for family members to get rid of someone whose
care could run into the millions of dollars.
     We recently received word that Robert was visited by his
mother (over the objections of his wife, she was allowed in by
another nurse who was risking being fired).  He responded to
her and showed that hallmark of humanity preferences!  He
loves bowling!
     A couple of years ago a good friend of mine had been
oxygen deprived for some indefinite time due to breathing
problems.  Doctors at a renowned medical center in Chicago
tried to tell her family to 'let her go' because they believed she
would have cognitive disabilities.  We, her friends and her
husband, immediately said ,"so what?"  We love her with or
without cognitive disabilities.  As it turned out, their predictions
were wrong but now she uses a ventilator and related
equipment plus personal assistance.  She has a life   a home
with her husband and her friends.  But she has had to fight her
HMO and now Medicaid all the way to get what she needs to
     So, what's going on here?  Prejudice toward all people
with disabilities is well documented, pervasive and serious.  But
prejudice toward those with cognitive disabilities is the most
serious.  People with cognitive disabilities are widely considered
less than fully human.  Even people who can almost accept the
humanity and civil rights of those of us who get around
differently or who use voice computers or ASL as a primary
language cannot seem to accept the same for those whom they
perceive as not able to think 'properly.'
     There are many people who don't really believe that the
immortal words of the Declaration of Independence apply to us,
especially those of us who don't think the way they do.  When
the 'fathers' of this Country framed those words, they were
thinking of propertied, white, severely-abled, males.  Women
and racial minorities have expanded 'all men' dramatically.  It
remains to be seen if we will further expand or witness a savage
contraction of its meaning.
     What is at stake in the Wendland case is nothing less
than our most basic civil right.  Will people with disabilities have
inalienable rights or not?  Roberts life has, of course, ultimate
significance for him.  Its significance for all of us is that once
again the able-ist works is trying to expand the circle of those
whom they legally consider less than fully human and can kill
without a second thought.  How 'inalienable' are rights that
apply to some but not to others?  If Robert Wendland doesn't
have inalienable rights, do any of us? 

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Coalition For Citizens With Disabilities
754 North President Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39202
Phone (601) 969-0601 or 1-800-748-9420 (both V/TDD)
Fax (601) 969-1662

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