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Ending Life Support: Who Decides?

Aired May 30, 2001 - 15:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hand it to me, Robert.


BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: These are matters of life or death.


ROSE WENDLAND, WIFE OF ROBERT WENDLAND: Robert did die seven years ago. We're keeping him alive artificial.



FLORENCE WENDLAND, MOTHER OF ROBERT 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.


BATTISTA: California's Supreme Court will soon decide whether Robert Wendland's wife can remove a feeding tube that keeps him alive. Meanwhile, a Florida case pits a husband against his in-laws over the fate of Terri Schiavo, a 37-year-woman who's been in a vegetative state for 11 years.


ROBERT SCHINDLER, FATHER OF TERRI SCHIAVO: We have had people who deal with brain-injured people, have seen Terri, and in their opinion, Terri could be rehabilitated.



MICHAEL SCHIAVO, HUSBAND OF TERRI SCHIAVO: Terri has made the same noises and the same moans for 11 years now. And she does it whether somebody's in the room or somebody's not in the room.


BATTISTA: Who should decide when life isn't worth living? And do you trust anyone to make that decision for you?


BATTISTA: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. Who will decide when your life is over? Court cases under way in Florida and California could help clarify who can end the life of people in comas or vegetative states. The first case we look at today involves the court fight over Terri Schiavo, the 37-year-old woman who has been in a vegetative state for 11 years now. Her husband wants doctors to stop feeding her. Her parents want the feedings to continue. Bob Schindler is Terri's father, and he joins us today from Tampa.

Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Schindler.

SCHINDLER: Thanks for having me on.

BATTISTA: Why is it that you want to keep Terri alive?

SCHINDLER: We think Terri is recoverable primarily. And we feel that Terri has an opportunity to recover and rejoin society.

BATTISTA: What evidence do you have that she is recovering?

SCHINDLER: By her responsiveness. And recently, we've had neurological doctors come forward and they feel the same way. They feel that Terri could interact.

BATTISTA: And so they feel that she would recover to what level?

SCHINDLER: That's unknown, actually. She has to go through a therapy process, and at that point, they can make a better determination to what level she could recover.

BATTISTA: You say that when you visit her, that she responds to you? How does -- how do you interact with her? What do you see?

SCHINDLER: Well, she responds mostly to my wife. My wife visits her. As a greeting, she'll smile. Her smile will go into a laughter. And then at times, she'll start to cry, that goes into a sob. And my wife will comfort her. And she's almost like begging my wife to help her. That's the interpretation you get from her.

BATTISTA: Her husband Michael says that they had conversations before her heart attack where she said that she would never want to live in this sort of state. Do you question that now?

SCHINDLER: I think that's very disputable.


SCHINDLER: Well, first of all, we don't really think that Terri would have expressed that opinion, and there's been people that are surfacing now that are disputing that.

BATTISTA: So even though most people, when do they have that discussion, very often say, "I would never want to live in state like that." So why do you think that Terri was different? Did she have religious convictions or...

SCHINDLER: It's out of character for Terri. I think if you knew Terri's personality, just Terri is not the type of person would even make that comment.

BATTISTA: So tell us what you know about your daughter that would make you think she would be OK living in that state.

SCHINDLER: Well, I think she's recoverable. I think that's the paramount thing. I think that we saw that years ago. Unfortunately, she has not had any therapy to bring her back. And on her own, she's recovered to a certain level.

BATTISTA: And is that a unanimous medical decision, or, I mean, have you heard both sides of the argument?

SCHINDLER: Well, the other side, naturally, the husband and the adversaries are saying that there is no chance of recovery. But we're seeing from people that have visited Terri, not only from our family but friends that have visited her that feel the same way, people that have dealt with people in Terri's condition -- brain-injured people that have made the same comments that feel Terri is recoverable. And we also have neurological people that are saying the same thing.

BATTISTA: All right, Bob, we're going to ask you to just hang on for just a moment now while we invite a couple of attorneys to discuss this case.

George Felos is the attorney for Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, first.

Mr. Felos, as I understand this case now, it is on hold until the courts determine whether or not Michael's story that Terri told him she would not want to live like this is true or not, is that correct?

GEORGE FELOS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL SCHIAVO: I guess that's a layman's way to put it. Where back in the appellate court, this case had gone to trial, had gone to appeal, went to the Florida Supreme Court. Went to the United States Supreme Court. All of those appellate courts agreed with the trial court that Terri can't recover and that her wishes were not to be kept alive artificially.

And since that time, there have been allegations that were made that my client's testimony was not correct. But we've since taken the deposition of those witnesses, and the deposition does nothing to refute my client's testimony. And so we believe the appellate court, when it hears this case again on June 25th, will again rule that Terri's wishes should be followed.

BATTISTA: So basically, all you have is Michael's word that that is what Terri told him before this happened. That's enough in Florida?

FELOS: Well, it's not just Michael's word. There were two other witnesses: Michael's brother and also Terri's sister-in-law, who came forward as well and said that they had conversations with Terri under different circumstances and at different times in which Terri said, you know, "I'd rather die than be dependent on the care of others. No tubes for me. I don't want to be hooked up on machines. I don't want to be kept alive artificially." And so it just wasn't my client's testimony, it was the testimony of others as well.

BATTISTA: Mr. Schindler says that that is completely out of character for his daughter. How do you respond to that?

FELOS: Well, obviously, I didn't know Terri while she was competent. I think, Bobbie, you raised a good point in that if you stopped a hundred people out on the street and you asked them, "Gee, if you were in a vegetative condition and had no hope of recovery, would you want to be kept alive artificially?," I doubt anyone would say, "Sure, keep my alive indefinitely." I don't think it's -- I don't think it's out of character for someone to express those wishes.

BATTISTA: I need to bring up one more point. There's a great deal of money that is involved in this case from a malpractice suit. That money goes to Michael upon Terri's death. A lot of people think this case is all about money.

FELOS: Well, the trial judge, after hearing a week of testimony of both sides concluded that Michael Schiavo loves his wife and is not financially motivated. The appellate court that reviewed the record very carefully made the same conclusion that my client is not financially motivated. And, in fact, on many occasions, my client has said to the Schindlers: "Look, I agree to donate whatever money I'd get to charity if you'll let Terri's wishes be carried out." And so he doesn't have a financial interest in -- motivation in this case. His motivation is to make sure his wife's wishes are carried out.

BATTISTA: All right, George Felos, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

With us on the phone now is Jim Eckert, who is the attorney for the Schindler family.

Mr. Eckert, I think the thing that makes this so difficult for a lot of people is that it's always -- you know, you seem to be able to find doctors on both side of this argument, doctors who say the case is hopeless and doctors who say that she does have a chance of making some sort of recovery.

JEFF ECKERT, ATTORNEY FOR SCHINDLER FAMILY: Well, I need to say something about what Mr. Felos said. First of all, she's not on artificial life support. She's not comatose. She's not TVS (ph). She's alert, cognitive and responds to those she knows and cares about.

He talks about going to trial. She had no attorney to represent her. He says these allegations that have come forward after and since we've gotten in this case in the last month, they're not allegations. They're sworn testimony found in the court file. He says they took depositions and disputed that. They took one deposition. The deposition of the witness supported our position that there was no such discussion between Michael Schiavo and his client, and he has not taken depositions as though there are more than one. She is on no tubes, not feeding. She is not artificial.

The court had nobody to dispute her situation with respect to an attorney to cross-examine him. And the appellate court relied upon the record as it was. It's always his mantra, Mr. Schiavo's and Mr. Felos', to carry out Terri's wishes. That's baloney. His client and he want to say to Michael Schiavo and discuss -- Michael Schiavo and Terri discuss starving his client to death or dehydrating her into convulsions. That's preposterous.

BATTISTA: How does anybody know whether a husband and wife has had that sort of discussion? There usually is never a witness to that.

ECKERT: Well, let me explain this to you. If an attorney had represented her, they would have objected to that testimony, because it comes under what's called a well-known law called the Dead Man's Statute. You can't testify about what a dead person or incompetent person testifies to if you have financial stake. The financial stake in this case was $700,000. His second girlfriend, Ms. Shook, who they did take the deposition of, says he kept asking her what to do. He never said, "Terri, this or that," but it was all in a life context.

And another independent witness, a confidant of Mr. Schiavo's, Trudy Capone, who he failed to mention, says he kept asking what to do all in a life context. And he tried in 1993 or 1994 to get a nursing home not to give her a pill that would help her with a bladder infection, a urinary tract infection, which would have lead to sepsis. And he knew that that sepsis would kill her because he was a nursing student.

BATTISTA: One last question for Bob Schindler. Do you think your daughter ever could have imagined this kind of legal dispute and wrangling going on over her case? Would she want something like this?

SCHINDLER: I think Terri is a private person. And the last thing she would want to be would to be getting this type of publicity, if that answers your question.

BATTISTA: All right, Bob Schindler and Jim Eckert, thank you both very much for joining us this afternoon.

ECKERT: Thank you.

BATTISTA: We'll have to see how this case plays out.

We're going to take a break here in just a moment. If you were declared brain dead, would you want life support to continue? Take the TALKBACK LIVE online viewer vote at live, AOL keyword: CNN. Can someone in a vegetative state communicate? We'll get a medical opinion on that right after this. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: A couple of e-mails here. "Our justice system needs a major overhaul in this particular area. Why can't a person die his or her dignity? I would want my wife to pull the plug if I were so close to death, if there is no quality in life anymore."

Sandy in Virginia says: "We are playing God when we interfere in the death process by artificial life support. Pulling the plug is deciding that those measures are no longer in the patient's best interest. How do we know if the patient is or is not in physical or psychological pain?"

Let me go to three more guests this hour. Greg Parshall is with us. He's a trial lawyer who has appeared before the Supreme Court. ACLU president Nadine Strossen is with us as well, and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Welcome to all of you.

Dr. Gupta, I want to start with you quickly, which is why I was turning to you before I introduced you. When after -- I'm not going to ask you to comment specifically on this Schiavo case, but clearly, people that are in a vegetative state similar to hers for 11 years, what are the chances of recovery and to what level of recovery are we talking about here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think people like absolutes when it comes to something like this. When a doctor says that there's possibly hope in a persistent vegetative state, that may be true. But what we deal with a lot in medicine is statistics. And someone who's in a persistent vegetative state, no significant signs of personality, of memory, of really any of the intrinsic qualities of being that person, the chance of recovery, a meaningful recovery is very, very small if not nonexistent.

BATTISTA: Meaning that if you damage parts of your brain through lack of oxygen in that particular case, they're not going to come back unless, you know, we perfect a brain transplant in some way, shape or form, correct?

GUPTA: That's right. And I don't know if you know that I'm a neurosurgeon, so this is my area of expertise.


GUPTA: And again, there's a difference between bringing someone back and just bringing a human being back. When you think that, you know, they're going to recover, I think people typically associate them recovering with them being able to interact with you again, with them having memory, with them being able to be that person that they were before versus someone who's a human being who can swallow, who has certain reflexes, who may be able to breathe on their own, but is in no way what they were before this all happened.

BATTISTA: Craig Parshall, is that what we want for our loved ones? Do we want to bring people back to just that subsistence level?

CRAIG PARSHALL, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Bobbie, I think what we really ought to be concerned about is the shifting standard that we're talking about in America. You know, many years ago, we talked about the persistent vegetative state as being the benchmark for when someone didn't deserve to continue existence. Now we're talking in terms of, for instance Terri Schiavo or Robert Wendland in California. These are people with minimal consciousness.

Now what's the standard going to be five years from now? Are we going to be suggesting death for those who don't have an adequate sense of humor or those who can't appreciate fine art? I'm being ironic, obviously, but I'm concerned that there is no bright line test that's supported by reason or ethics. I think the line ought to be this: When we are given a choice between life and death, we always err on the side of life.

BATTISTA: Although -- and I think this is going to bear out in our poll question later today. You know 99 percent of the people asked this question when they're in a rationale state as to whether they want to live in a state like that. Well, the answer to that definitively no.

PARSHALL: Unfortunately, when you are in a situation where your well-being is not threatened, where you're not hanging on to survival with your fingertips, in a comfortable situation, most of us would prefer to say that we want an optimal life or no life at all. On the other hand, that situation is deceiving because we cannot interview those who are conscious but unable to communicate. How can we presume to speak for them and speak for them in such a way as to irrevocably decide for their death?

BATTISTA: Well, Nadine, that's -- you know, these are conversations that I think all couples have at some points in their life, you know, after they've seen a movie on the subject or whatever, and they say, you know, they say, "I don't ever want to be in that state." And they don't put in writing. That's the big problem.

NADINE STROSSEN, ACLU PRESIDENT: Right. And the ACLU's position, interestingly enough, has been vindicated by the United States Supreme Court in an eight-to-one decision in 1990. And I think it accords with much of what Mr. Parshall has said, that it is not up to person A to make the decision for person B much less is it up to the government. The touchstone is what the individual himself or herself chooses as long as we're talking about somebody who is mentally competent. Then we can get into very difficult factual situations, Bobbie, as to how we implement that principle, in a particular case: What is the evidence as to what an individual's preferences are?

The reality is that most people do not take the trouble to write living wills, and I don't think that means that they should be denied an opportunity to have their preferences honored if their preferences have been clearly expressed in another way, for example, through conversations with loved ones who have credibility.

BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience quickly to get some reaction.

Matt, you say you have a living will, but I must say you're only one of a couple of people in our audience who do.

MATT: Yes, I do. I sort of felt that it was a decision that I wanted to make and not put a burden on my wife or my children so that if something ever happened to me, that that decision would be made and they didn't have to think about the consequences.

BATTISTA: Dr. Gupta, should more weight be given you think to the medical community? I mean, is too much of this falling into legal hands or what do you think about that?

GUPTA: Well, it ends up being an extremely personal decision. And I think the point is well taken made by someone at the time when they're able to make that decision. The medical community, I think, hands are getting increasingly tied. On one hand, we're jumping to technologies that are going to prolong life even longer than it is now, and that's going to change even more radically over the next few years.

On the other hand, we're in some ways being forced to make decisions about who can live, who should live and maybe how we can keep them alive. And I think a lot of those questions as I think as doctors we advise, "Listen, that person that you knew, that person that you had memories with, that person you interacted with will not come back." There's some things we can say absolutely, but there are many things that are still in the gray area. Will they still be alive in five years? Will they still be alive in 10 years? Perhaps. There is hope to that, but maybe not to bringing that person back.

BATTISTA: And to the audience quickly, and Tony.

TONY: I just think that there's always a chance you will get better. And who knows what will happen in five years or 10 years. And to cut off a person's life now seems a bit drastic.

BATTISTA: So you would take the chance?

TONY: Definitely.

BATTISTA: All right, we're take a break here and continue in a moment.

ANNOUNCER: About 10 percent of Americans have an advanced medical directive, a legal document outlining their wishes in the event of certain illnesses. That document usually contains a living will stating what level of life preserving medical intervention is wanted and a medical power of attorney naming the person who will make medical decisions if the patient is unable to do so.


BATTISTA: We're back. I got a good e-mail here, but I wanted to ask Craig Parshall first: Is there ever a situation, Craig, where you would think it would be appropriate to end life support or would you always err on the side of caution?

PARSHALL: Let me say this, Bobbie. I've been involved in some of these cases. As a matter of fact, I remember a case back in Wisconsin, an elderly gentleman who really had no support system, he went into a stroke, went into a coma. And less than seven days later, the hospital was seeking to appoint guardian to have his life support and his food and water deprived from him. So I have to tell you I have yet to see a case that would warrant that.

The problem is we're in the murky areas of fact finding. Very often, the people who are in a position to say, "My husband said this," or "My father said this," are persons who stand to gain financially as a result their death. Now I'm not impugning anybody's motives, but I'm saying in a legal system, you have to set up barriers for the fundamental protection of rights. I mean, after all, if you view the irony here, we are affording more protection for Timothy McVeigh, who is an acknowledged mass murder, than we are for somebody like Robert Wendland in California who's minimally conscious but guilty of nothing.

STROSSEN: That's actually not true. The state has set up very strong procedural barriers and obstacles. In fact, many believe that it's too difficult for people to prove the intent and choice of somebody to terminate life. And I completely agree that an individual's decision to stay alive should not be overridden but conversely an individual's decision to let life end, to die with dignity also should not be overridden. California, for example, as many other stays requires proof by clear and convincing evidence, an extraordinarily high burden of proof which in fact does tilt the scales in favor of life.

BATTISTA: Susan in Washington e-mails us: "We would never withhold food from a person who was born retarded. Is it somehow different because these people used to have a normal life? If a person can't breathe on their own, has no brain function at all, or is in a terminal state and in pain, I'm all for pulling the plug. But none of those situations exist in the case you are describing." I think some people might take issue with that, though. I think they would say that Terri Schiavo doesn't have any real brain function.

See, this all goes to quality of life, and it's like, how do you define quality of life? For some people, you know, they're fine to lay there and swallow, and that's it.

STROSSEN: Bobbie, it's very subjective. And that's why we have to leave it up to each individual. It reflects people's moral views, it reflects their religious views, and to the best extent possible, we have to honor those.

PARSHALL: Bobbie, let me say something in response to Nadine. It does get down to individual desires. Unfortunately, it's always seen through the grid of a third party because the person is incapable of communicating. Let's talk about the Robert Wendland case. This man came out of a coma after 16 months. After some rehabilitation, was able to catch a ball, write the letters R and O and operate a wheelchair. And yet his family wants him to be deprived of food and water because he can't articulate his need to survive.

STROSSEN: Would you agree that if he had written a clear living will that did apply to these situations that it should be honored?

PARSHALL: Let me tell you the problem with that. And that is that those people who make those written directives are usually writing them when they are in full health and they're not at the edge of near survival.

STROSSEN: By definition.

PARSHALL: That's not necessarily the appropriate time to inquire.

BATTISTA: Why is that not appropriate, Craig? Because, you know, you're in a rational state of mind when you make that decision, so why is that not appropriate?

PARSHALL: Well, as an example, some people will write a will giving everything to their son-in-law, and then three years later, decide that was a poor decision to make but never get around to changing that will. In fact, if you interview most lawyers who deal with people, they aren't very good at updating their wills to adapt them to changing opinions or changing circumstances.

STROSSEN: But under your worldview it becomes impossible to honor a person's wishes and we can imagine nightmare situations. In fact, it doesn't take imagination, that the denial of the honoring of that kind of advance directive may force a person to endure what in effect is torture, psychological or perhaps even physical. And I don't think the state should force a person to do that.

PARSHALL: Well, I think what I'm saying is this. I think a nation is most judged by how it handles the least among us, those who are unable to articulate their needs, those who are most vulnerable, those who are oppressed and those who are disempowered.

BATTISTA: I've got to take another break, here. And our thanks to Craig Parshall and Nadine Strossen for tackling a difficult subject. Dr. Gupta, thank you for coming down here and being with us. Appreciate your expertise.

And when we come back, a right to die case in California may set a legal precedent, the one we've been talking about. We'll also meet a man who says he defied medical science, so maybe others can too. We'll be back.


BATTISTA: Let me go quickly to the audience here before we move ahead. Eldridge, you're a lawyer, you had a comment?

ELDRIDGE: Yes, I'd just like to respond to what Mr. Parshall said. I think the whole question about this is whether or not someone is able to make this decision. And if someone makes the decision while they're living, what a better time to make the decision? Certainly, you can't make it if you're minimally conscious or even in a persistent vegetative state. So I don't understand where he's coming from when he says that.

BATTISTA: All right, Eldridge, thank you. And we now turn our attention to a case in California where a brain-damaged man is at the center of a life-and-death court battle between his wife and his mother. Robert Wendland's mother says her son communicates with her. His wife says it is time to disconnect the feeding tube.

Joining us first is Lawrence Nelson, attorney for Robert's wife, Rose Wendland. Also with us is Janie Hickok Siess, an attorney for Florence Wendland, Robert Wendland's mother.

Mr. Nelson, let me start with you. This case, I think, people would perceive as different from the Schiavo case because Robert appears to be in -- for lack of a better term, but in a greater degree of consciousness than Terri Schiavo is. You argued this case this morning before the California Supreme Court. What is the argument to end his life?

LAWRENCE NELSON, ATTORNEY FOR ROSE WENDLAND: Well, the basis of the argument is that Mr. Wendland would not want to live in a condition like this. Four different witnesses at the trial, his wife, his daughter, a friend of the family and his own brother all agree that Robert would never want to live in the kind of condition he is in today.

BATTISTA: So, again, it's just one of those cases where it's going on verbal conversations between family members?

NELSON: That's what -- that's what almost all Americans do. They very rarely write their wishes down or make them that express. But in this case, all the close family agree that Robert's wishes were very clear: he would not want to live in the terribly debilitated state he's in today.

BATTISTA: And, Ms. Siess, why does his mother disagree?

JANIE HICKOK SIESS, FLORENCE WENDLAND'S ATTORNEY: Well, I have to disagree with Mr. Nelson. Not all of the close family members believe that Robert would want to die. His mother and sister, specifically, who are my clients, believe that he would want to live, as do his remaining siblings, aside from the one brother who has supported Rose. There has been some testimony at trial from Rose and her witnesses about Robert's statements, but the court found that they were not specific enough to allow her to bring about his death.

BATTISTA: What are the chances for Robert's recovery, if any?

SIESS: Robert's not going to recover, he's always going to be a disabled person. But it's our contention that even though you're disabled, you still have a right to life and a right to your continued life in this country.

BATTISTA: When you say disabled, what do you mean by that, though? SIESS: Robert is cognitively disabled. He has suffered a catastrophic brain injury so that he doesn't speak and he doesn't take food and fluids by mouth. He does has cognitive function, and that's not disputed. He does perform some tasks and he does respond to commands and interact with his environment.

Now, there's dispute about to what extent -- and what meaning all of that has in a legal sense. But, the fact is that he's not in a persistent vegetative state or comatose.

BATTISTA: So, Mr. Nelson, if we can -- in a way, it sounds to me like Robert's a bit like a 1-year-old or a 2-year-old. I mean, if he has -- would you say it's that high or not?

NELSON: Well, that's difficult to say. Our view is that Robert has, just in the literal sense, a minimum amount of consciousness. He cannot speak, he cannot communicate. He doesn't recognize his loved ones. In fact, the independent medical experts who were retained in this case found that he really expresses nothing other than irritation, aggressiveness, irascibility. Three weeks ago he bit a nurse who was washing his face.

BATTISTA: Ms. Siess, is there a -- obviously, a slippery slope you're concerned about here -- as Craig Parshall was also about, you know, do we get to the point where, not quite what Craig was talking about, but, I mean, where we're putting advanced Alzheimer's patients to death prematurely? Not that -- again, not that people would want to exist in that state, either.

SIESS: Well, there's definitely a slippery slope, and that's why every American should be watching this case closely and should be worried about the outcome, frankly. Because it could be them, it could be their father, husband, brother, son -- they could be in the situation that the Wendland family finds itself, and that adds up to about 12 to 14 million people in this country who are at risk if we start down this slope.

BATTISTA: What if we find out that most of America wants to go down that slope? I mean, in other words, they want to be in control of saying when they die.

SIESS: If someone wants to be in control of saying when they die, then they should be very clear in making their directions and their desires known to their family members. But what's at issue here is starvation and dehydration death, and that's a slow, ugly process. So people need to say up front, I understand that and I'll accept that, because I don't want the alternative. There is absolutely no evidence that Robert Wendland understood that he would die by starvation and dehydration.

BATTISTA: I thought that was -- doctors sort of tried to make that a painless process, Mr. Nelson.

NELSON: That's absolutely correct. If Rose Wendland prevails in her decision to withdraw the artificial nutrition hydration in Robert's case, he will not suffer a bit as he dies. He will be given medication so that he's not in pain. Similar to if he were on a ventilator and the ventilator were withdrawn.

Physicians give medication so the patient doesn't experience choking or air hunger.

BATTISTA: Let me -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

SIESS: I just wanted to take issue with that, because Rose's own expert physician testified at trial that he would try to alleviate the pain and suffering that Robert would experience. But then you would have to give him an arbitrary dose of medication, because he wouldn't be able to determine exactly how much pain Robert was feeling. And I say that that's inhumane.

BATTISTA: To the audience and, Joan, quickly, a comment.

JOAN: I was just concerned about the cost to the family in this -- that no one is addressing that issue. For someone that has no chance of recovering, and to keep them alive for year after year, the cost to the family has got to be terribly strenuous.

BATTISTA: Well, does that enter -- I guess, I should ask if it's relevant?

NELSON: Well, in the case of Robert Wendland, his medical care is being paid for by taxpayers. His daily expenses are paid by the medical program, which is a combination of federal and state money, and his medical treatment expenses are covered by Medicare.

SIESS: And a family is going to incur a heavy emotional toll whenever a member of the family is rendered disabled. There's an adjustment process that they have to go through, and I'm not convinced in this case, Robert's immediate family members -- his wife and children -- have gone through that process and come out on the other side of acceptance, although his mother and sister certainly have.

BATTISTA: Let me take a break here. Lawrence Nelson and Jane Siess, thanks for being with us. When come back we will meet a man who came back from a vegetative state despite the odds. Stay with us.


BATTISTA: Welcome back.

Joining us now is George Thornally, author of "Georgie Boy: Help, I'm Not A Vegetable." It's the story of his own recovery from a vegetative state.

And am I saying that correctly, George? Were you in a vegetative state or comatose or brain dead? What was your story?

GEORGE THORNALLY, AUTHOR, "GEORGIE BOY": Well, In 1951, I, among 58,000 others, was dying of polio right here in the San Francisco Bay area. I became completely paralyzed and after a week, to my dismay, I found I could not communicate in any way.

I had run such high temperatures that the doctors felt that my brain had been fried, and talked about me as if I were a vegetable. And finally they claimed, he is a vegetable. Nothing can be done for him. All this time I was very aware and, in due course, I came out of it.

BATTISTA: So, your brain was still aware. You're saying that your brain was functioning normally, but your body wasn't.

THORNALLY: You know, the brain is always alive. It's running the body very nicely. You know, it directs the blood flow and so forth and so on. It's trying to cope with a situation and mend things. What you lose is a presence of mind which just goes on vacation, and you try to get it back. It comes back periodically, and finally it comes back altogether, and you become whole.

BATTISTA: So, when you were in this state, how much were you aware of? Could you hear what being said in the room? Or could you form full thoughts?

THORNALLY: I didn't know sleeping, as we know sleeping, normally. But I was in and out of consciousness. When I was conscious or semiconscious, I was aware of everything that was going to a very high degree. I could hear extremely well. My -- I was almost on edge the whole time. I was in great pain, and that contributed to the situation.

BATTISTA: So the whole -- this went on for four are five years, correct?

THORNALLY: No, no, this went on for four or five months. But let me tell you, only days, you need....


THORNALLY: Only days.

BATTISTA: What I was wondering, if at any point in time during this state, you did say to yourself, I -- it had to occur to you that you might be like this for the rest of your life. Did you say, I don't want to live like this, to myself.

THORNALLY: No. Never. In the early stages, I was quite angry. You know, it's very difficult to be angry and not be able to express yourself, communicate. But in due course, I -- I began to cope with the situation and convinced myself, that somehow or other, I was going to beat this.

BATTISTA: So, what if this had gone on for years? Would you still have felt the same way, do you think, ten years later?

THORNALLY: Oh, I think so. I think the human animal has -- in a deep, deep sense of fighting for life.

BATTISTA: Is it clear to you, George, that what happened to you was somewhat of a miracle, perhaps?

THORNALLY: Well, it depend upon your outlook. I was not religious at the time. And it certainly was a spontaneous recovery that I experienced. Others called it a miraculous recovery. Frankly, that I'm here today and fully recovered, really is a kind of miracle.

BATTISTA: It unfortunately does not happen to most people in vegetative or brain-dead states. We'd have to admit that, wouldn't we?

THORNALLY: Yes. I think what helped me a great deal was the compassion that was displayed by certain family members and visitors. Not all the nurses were compassionate. Some handled me roughly. Not all the doctors were compassionate, some handled we roughly.

But there were those among them that displayed compassion and I think that maybe in the Robert Wendland case that is what's lacking. Maybe the mother can be the one that gives that compassion to his son. Maybe that will bring him around.

BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience and Diana.

DIANA: My concern is, if the family is being honest with themselves, if they are not -- at a point where they don't want to let go of the patient, or are they -- do they really have the patient's best interests in mind in carrying out wishes of the patient versus wanting their family member to be around?

BATTISTA: I was going have George respond to that, but I have to take a quick break here and then we will get the results of our online viewer vote when we come back. Stay with us.


BATTISTA: Let's check the results of our viewer vote today. The question was if you were declared brain-dead would you want life support to continue? Ninety-three percent say no, 7 percent say yes.

George Thornally, thank you very much for joining us today. You are a very lucky man.

THORNALLY: Thank you.

BATTISTA: And a couple of e-mails here as we end the show

Debbie in Knoxville, Tennessee, says, "Please be sure your audience understands the difference between brain-death and comatose. Terri is clearly not brain-dead as she does non require artificial respiratory support to breathe. You can not be brain-dead and not be on a ventilator.

My peers and I are critical care nurses and are watching your comments from our intensive care unit and we want to make sure that your audience has a clear picture of this important differentiation."

Thank you very much for that, Debbie, and thank all of you for watching today. We will see you tomorrow when the president's daughter could be in trouble again with the law. Police say Jenna Bush tried to buy alcohol last night with someone's ID. Is her life now fair game for the press?

Let us know what you think and we'll see you tomorrow.