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Federal News and Information

June 2001

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Disability Advocates Protest Starvation of Disabled Man

Disability advocates representing several national organizations will be convening at the California Supreme Court at 9:00 am, May 30th, to join in opposition to the latest legal attempt to kill a disabled man through court authorized starvation.

Robert Wendland became brain-injured in 1993 as the result of an automobile accident. After 16 months in a coma, he woke up. Robert Wendland operates his own wheelchair, indicates "yes" and "no" on a communication board, paints, and plays wheelchair bowling. As a result of his brain injury, he uses a feeding tube to get the nutrition and water he needs to live.

Rose Wendland, his wife, wants Robert's feeding tube removed so he can die of starvation. According to her, Robert "already died" years ago. As Robert's court-appointed guardian, Rose claims that a new state law (Probate Code 2355, amended in July, 2000) gives her the authority to withdraw food and water even if he expressly objects. Fortunately for Robert, his sister and mother disagree. If it weren't for them, he'd be dead already.

Nine national disability organizations and one university affiliated program filed an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court. The brief asserts that killing Robert Wendland through starvation violates his civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and his right to due process under the constitution.

Robert Wendland did not leave an advanced directive or other "clear and convincing evidence" of his wishes. The new statute eliminates the need for such directives.

"No one ever heard of this statute before the Wendland Case," says local activist Jessie Lorenz, "This new change in the law means that any guardian can deny life-saving treatment - including food and water - based on their own beliefs about the value of a cognitively disabled person's life." Lorenz also pointed out that this power extends to non-family guardians, like the state, who may have financial conflicts of interest and a prejudicial view of the "worth" of the lives of people with severe cognitive disabilities.

Amy Hasbrouck, a visually impaired attorney who drafted much of the brief says that people need to look beyond individual cases and realize the scope of public policies such as Probate Code 2355. "This case and its final determination can have lethal impact on thousands of people in California who are under guardianship."

Diane Coleman also collaborated on the amicus brief. She is founder and president of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization that leads the disability community's opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia. She agrees with Hasbrouck and asserts that the possible consequences on a national level are staggering. "There are millions of people with head injuries, labels of mental retardation and Alzheimers across the nation. They could all become subject to medical killing through removal of treatment - including food and water - regardless of their own wishes in the matter." The case is expected to go on to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization that leads the disability community's opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia, filed the amicus brief opposing the attempt to starve Robert Wendland and challenging the constitutionality of Probate Code 2355.

The following organizations signed onto the brief filed by Not Dead Yet:

ADAPT, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, The Arc, Brain Injury Association, Inc., Center for Self-Determination, The Center for Human Policy at Syracuse University, the Disability Rights Center, the National Council on Independent Living, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and TASH.

You can contact Not Dead Yet's web site at:


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