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Friday, September 28, 2001

State Supreme Court denies petition to clarify Wendland ruling

By Julie Z. Giese/News-Sentinel staff writer

The California Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by attorneys for the wife of the late Robert Wendland to clarify details on when conservators can remove life supports.

The petition for rehearing, filed last month, requested that the court give doctors and patients direction in making end-of-life decisions.

The courtís denial Thursday affirms its ruling in August that conservators need clear and convincing evidence to remove life support from an incapacitated patient in the absence of written directions.

Lodi attorney Janie Siess, who represented Wendlandís mother Florence, said she was delighted with the outcome. ďItís very gratifying to have the court reinforce its decision,Ē she said.

Jon Eisenberg, an Oakland attorney representing a handful of health care organizations and

bioethicists in the case, pushed for the clarification for health care providers on when life-sustaining treatments can be withheld.

Eisenberg was unable to be reached for comment Thursday night.

The state high courtís ruling established the level of evidence needed to remove life supports in Wendlandís situation, according to Eisenberg.

But it didnít spell out the proof needed to meet the lower standard of preponderance of evidence if a person had designated a health care agent or wrote an advance health care directive, he said.

Wendland, 49, died on July 17 of bronchial pneumonia at Lodi Memorial Hospital before the state court ruled in favor of his mother, Florence Wendland, who had fought to keep him alive.

The former Stockton man suffered severe brain damage following a 1993 accident when he reportedly drove drunk and rolled his pickup truck on an Interstate 5 onramp outside of Lodi.

Wendland was left incapacitated from the crash. He was unable to speak, feed or care for himself during the eight years he spent on life support.

His wife, Rose Wendland, fought to remove life support and allow him to die. She claimed he twice told her he didnít want to live like a vegetable, but he didnít put his wishes in writing.

The Supreme Court found that Robert Wendlandís statements to his wife were not enough proof to pull remove life supports given his twilight state.

According to state law, conservators can remove feeding and hydration tubes for patients who are unconscious or in a permanent vegetative state.

Eisenberg argued the state Supreme Court improperly reformed the state probate code which gave conservators exclusive authority to make health care decisions based on considering the incapacitated loved oneís best interest and medical advice.

Siess contended the higher standard is needed to protect patients from dying of starvation and dehydration without sufficient proof they would refuse such medical care.

The case now becomes a precedent in the judicial law books, ending the six-year legal battle between Wendlandís wife and mother.

ďItís been a long haul,Ē Siess said. ďItís also the end of the struggle for my clients. I hope they can find peace from it all.Ē

Itís uncertain whether Eisenberg will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

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