Robert Wendland and The Media Dr. Nancy Snyderman of ABC "Good Morning America": Have the doctors used the term "semi- conscious state?"
Robert Wendland's mother, Florence Wendland: They use that, but that's not what he's in. He's wide awake. And he feels pain, he does different things. He done this picture, struck me right away like this was this school of fish and these were smaller fish swimming around.
The story of Robert Wendland is becoming a media circus. "A landmark case is heading for the California Supreme Court. Seven years ago, Robert Wendland rolled his pickup truck and was left paralyzed and in a coma." This is how Roger Cossack of CNN's 'Burden of Proof' introduced his Jan. 15 audience to the facts of the case. "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. Florence Wendland says her son still experiences moods and responds to simple commands. Rose, Robert's wife, says that the husband she knew died seven years ago."
Here's how ABC's Diane Sawyer explained the case to viewers of the Jan. 4 edition of "Good Morning America:" The "story of two people, a wife and a mother, fighting over the life of a husband and a son. His mother does not want him taken off life support. His wife, in the name of mercy, and, she says, his own wishes, wants him to die."
Not Dead Yet provided a transcript of this Jan. 4 show, excerpts of which are below. Not Dead Yet has filed an amicus brief in the case, joined by several national organizations, including Brain Injury Assn., Inc., Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, The Arc, ADAPT, N.C.I.L. and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.
Rose Wendland was reportedly "furious" when Florence Wendland showed the painting on "Good Morning America," says Janie Hickok Seiss, attorney for Florence Wendland. The painting, and other pictures of Florence with her son, "of course portray Robert as much more active than Rose wants people to see him." When Rose Wendland took Los Angeles Times reporters into the hospital at Lodi to see Robert, says Siess, the picture LA Times photographers got was of "Robert in bed." That's the kind of picture Rose Wendland wants, insists Siess.
Siess says there's a concerted effort to keep the public from seeing Robert with his mother, and to portray him as unable to do the things that Florence tells reporters he is capable of doing. Rose Wendland, responding to Roger Cossack of CNN's "Burden of Proof, says, "Robert's actually brain dead. He's got severe atrophy. He does move his left side. And as far as him able to do what Florence says, that's impossible."
Siess says that hospital staff, at Rose's directive, have kept Florence and Siess from even sitting in the hospital lobbby to talk to reporters. Siess says reporters asked the hospital to be allowed to see Robert Wendland "interacting with Florence" but Rose refused the requests -- all part of an effort to keep the public from seeing Robert with his mother and to portray him as unable to do the things that Florence says he is capable of.
Below are some excerpts from recent national televsion coverage:From "Burden of Proof": FLORENCE WENDLAND. He's not in a coma. He does things. He paints, he holds my -- he kisses my hand. I'll say, 'Robert, let me hold your hand,' and he'll hold my hand. I'll say, "Kiss my hand," and he'll kiss my hand. I'll say, 'Can I kiss your hand?' He'll let me kiss his hand. I bought a game, he plays that. Nurses have seen him do it. He paints, he bowls, now he's learning to play golf. They have a multipurpose room where they have several people like him and they all seem to be enjoying themselves.
ROGER COSSACK: Florence, therapists say that, in fact, the things that you've describe aren't really the things that he does, but are just reactions because of the state that he's in. And they say that these are things that therapists taught him how to do, that he really doesn't respond. . . .
"Read 'Burden of Proof' transcript.
ROSE WENDLAND: Well, to be honest with you, Robert did die seven years ago. We're keeping him alive artificial [sic]. It was Robert's choice not to be in any type of life-support. He mentioned it, like I said, to myself and his children and his brother. So in a sense, we are keeping him alive. Robert is not keeping himself alive by no means. And that, like I said, he had mentioned to us if he could not be a husband, a father or a provider, what's the purpose of all this? And that was his choice. We're just trying to honor his wishes. . . .
COSSACK: Rose, Florence has indicated that she would -- you know, Robert's mother has indicated that she would take care of her son and that she would do -- she would come to the hospital every day and take care of him, and has suggested, horrible as this may be to you, that perhaps the answer is a divorce rather than the ending of his life. How do you respond to that?
ROSE WENDLAND: Well, first of all, you know, that may be her answer to everything, is just divorce. And you think that that would change anything, it does not change anything. The fact is that my children can't divorce him and, you know, my children are the ones who are suffering through this. If they know their father's been gone for seven years and they need a rest, a final on this, and so does Rob. That was in his wish. And as far as divorcing, I'm -- you know, I'm just really tired of hearing that. It's not even a question, you know, is divorcing, or I'm tired of this. It has nothing to do with me personally, it has everything to do with Rob and what he asked and how we're going to honor his wishes. And, you know, that's how I feel.
RONALD CRANFORD, NEUROLOGIST: [Robert Wendland is] not in a coma, he's not vegetative, he is not unconscious, he is what we call 'minimally conscious.' He does have some definite, but minimal, interaction with the environment. In that situation, he is so severely brain damaged that I think the one that is the most caring and most interested, which seems to be the wife and the children, should be allowed to make that decision. . . .
I think that 90 percent of Americans would find a condition like Robert Wendland, where he may be aware to some degree, only minimally aware, absolutely horrifying and worse than being vegetative.
JANIE SEISS (FLORENCE WENDLAND'S ATTORNEY): They are describing Robert as 'minimally conscious.' What the public needs to know is that there really is no such thing. That is a term that was made up by Dr. Cranford and some of his colleagues in order to move the line over where you can start killing people like Robert.
Read 'Burden of Proof' transcript.From "Good Morning America, Jan. 4: DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN OF "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": Despite years of therapy, Robert cannot walk or talk. No one knows for sure what, if anything, he is thinking.
FLORENCE WENDLAND: If you had a child in that condition, would you let somebody put him to death?
SNYDERMAN VOICEOVER: Florence's court case hinges on the argument that to remove his feeding tube would violate Robert's constitutional right to life.
SNYDERMAN: Is it conceivable that sometimes living as this could be worse than death?
FLORENCE WENDLAND: No.
DIANE SAWYER to Rose Wendland: When did you decide there was no hope?
ROSE WENDLAND: Actually, after a year of being in this coma, or vegetative state.
DIANE SAWYER: After a year. And in his current condition, what about what your mother-in-law says? She says he can toss a ball, follow simple commands, and that he can kiss her on the hand.
ROSE WENDLAND: Well, no one's ever seen that, as far as kissing her hand, not even the nurses. But as far as tossing the ball, he can move his left arm, hand. And it's involuntary. It's like uncontrollable. And so yes, he can hit a ball if you put it in his path. . . .
DIANE SAWYER: Your mother-in-law said, she said divorce him and walk away and she will take the responsibility. . . .
ROSE WENDLAND: Yes, but what is my children supposed to do? You know, we live with this daily, we live with this monthly, every second of the day. I can divorce him, but what about the children? I am the parent. I am there to protect them and I need to do what's best for them. . . .