Killing in the Shadows (1996)

by Wesley J. Smith

Killing is not appropriate to the light. It is easiest done in the shadows, behind closed curtains, under cover of darkness, where nobody can see. To verify the truth of this, we only have to look to California’s Central Valley, to Stockton, where attorneys for the Lodi Memorial Hospital and attorneys for Rose Wendland, are attempting to impose court-ordered secrecy to hide problems with the medical care received by Rose’s husband Robert, whose death Rose seeks to cause by dehydration.

Robert Wendland is brain damaged and physically disabled because of an auto accident. After a 16 month coma, he woke up last January. Since then, he has improved to the point where he can successfully maneuver a motorized wheelchair and act upon to simple requests. Despite this, Rose, with the support of the hospital, wants to end Robert’s life by removing his tube-supplied food and fluids. Robert would already be dead but for the intervention of his sister and mother, Rebekah Vinson and Florence Wendland, who went to court to stop the killing.

As reported in these pages (Creating a Disposable Caste, December 8, 1995), a neurologist who reviewed Robert’s care on behalf of Florence and Rebekah, charged that as of his examination, there were serious deficiencies in his treatment, including the failure of doctors to order an encephalogram (EEG), a standard brain test, for Robert despite his being awake for almost a year. (EEGs were performed after this was made public.) Concerns also have been raised about Robert having his room moved, and being forced to lie without television, lights, or visitors for more than 16 hours a day, an important issue because cognitively disabled people often benefit from stimulation and personal interaction.

Stung by the serious questions about the quality of Robert’s care, attorneys for the hospital wrote letters to Rebekah and Florence’s attorneys, demanding that public discussion of Robert’s care stop. The hospital has also imposed restrictions to prevent further facts about Robert’s health from being made public. The hospital attorneys are even trying to influence court decisions about Robert. Despite the fact that the hospital is not a party to the Wendland lawsuit, its attorneys forwarded copies of their letters demanding secrecy to Stockton Superior Court Judge Bob W. McNatt, who will rule on the secrecy issue on January 16, 1996 (and on Robert’s ultimate fate on March 4, 1996). Hospital attorneys have also personally appeared before the judge and have even filed an amicus brief, arguing in support of secrecy.

At the same time, Rose’s attorney, Stephen Scott, has formally asked Judge McNatt for an injunction preventing further dissemination of facts about Robert’s medical care. This is ironic since Rose, Mr. Scott, Robert’s doctors, and a hospital representative have repeatedly spoken with the media in an attempt to convince reporters that Robert’s dehydration is somehow appropriate. Indeed, the hospital representative falsely denied on KRON TV that Robert is able to maneuver a wheel chair and Rose even wheeled Robert outside the hospital so he could be video taped for television.

As long as the stories were sympathetic, Rose and the hospital didn’t mind the publicity. But when KRON aired a video showing Robert successfully responding to therapy, and the substantive criticisms about the deficiencies in his medical care published in the Chronicle made them look bad, Rose and the hospital suddenly decided that Robert’s privacy was being invaded by all the media attention.

The attempts to keep the lid on Robert’s condition and care go hand-in-hand with their intention to cause his death. What they don’t want you to know is that Robert is a conscious, feeling human being, who deserves quality medical treatment and rehabilitation, not the cruelty of intentional starvation and dehydration.


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