COURT TIGHTENS RIGHT-TO-DIE STANDARD: Patient has to leave clear direction
on ending care
California court rules in 'right to die' case
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 09 (Reuters) - Ruling in a closely watched "right to die"
case, California's top court said on Thursday that family members have no
right to stop life support for conscious patients who are not terminally ill.
California Supreme Court's unanimous decision came several weeks after the
death of the man at the center of the case, 49-year-old Robert Wendland, who
died of natural causes on July 17 while still attached to life support.
the case continued, testing the right of family members to disconnect artificial
life support systems from incapacitated loved ones who have given no clear
indication of their own desires.
sustained injuries in a 1993 truck accident that left him conscious but severely
disabled, both mentally and physically, and dependent on food and water delivered
artificially via tube.
Wendland was deemed to be "minimally conscious" and able to respond to a few
simple commands, he was unable to talk, walk, eat, drink or use a bathroom
and his closest family members said he never recognized or communicated with
them in any way.
wife and legal conservator, Rose Wendland, asked for permission to disconnect
the life support tubes in 1995, saying her husband--who did not leave specific
instructions--would never have approved the procedures being used to keep
Wendland's mother and sister objected, leading to a protracted court fight
over if and when family members may step in to stop artificial life support.
have previously allowed removal of life support in cases where a patient is
terminally ill or in a coma-like state. But the rules were unclear on how
a family should make decisions when a patient is in a near-vegetative state.
Wendland based her case on two conversations she had with her husband prior
to his accident in which he reportedly told her that he "wouldn't want to
live like a vegetable."
mother disagreed, saying that Wendland was conscious enough to kiss her hand
and cry during hospital visits.
Robert Wendland died before the case could be decided, Rose Wendland had asked
the state Supreme Court to make its ruling to clarify the law for future cases.
would hope that families wouldn't have to go through what we went through,"
Wendland told a news conference after her husband's death.
Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling, said that in cases like Wendland's,
life support may not be halted "absent clear and convincing evidence that
the conservator's decision is in accordance with either the conservatee's
own wishes or best interest."
the court took pains to emphasize the narrow scope of its ruling, saying it
affects only those cases involving conscious patients who have left no formal
directions for healthcare and who would die without life support.
conclusion does not affect permanently unconscious patients, including those
who are comatose or in a persistent vegetative state," the court said.
Others not covered by the ruling include patients who have left legal instructions
regarding their healthcare or who have appointed others to make such decisions.