Robert Wendland Spared (1997)
Volume 11, Number 5 — November-December 1997
On 12/9/97, Judge McNatt ruled that Rose Wendland had failed to present clear and convincing evidence that starving and dehydrating Robert to death would be in his best interest. “If I have to choose life and death based on the evidence presented to me, I must err on the side of caution and choose life,” the judge said. “I am not ready to start down that slippery slope without some form of guidance,” he added.
Judge McNatt’s surprise ruling came after Rose and others had testified that, while Robert could do simple tasks, those functions were not sufficiently meaningful to justify letting Robert live. Robert was referred to as being “minimally conscious.” At least six doctors and ethicists testified that it would be ethically permissible to “let him die.” But Janie Hickok Siess, the attorney for Robert’s mother, Florence Wendland, argued that neither Rose’s attorney nor the attorney appointed by the court to represent Robert had presented sufficient evidence to meet the “clear and convincing” burden of proof required under California law. Judge McNatt agreed.
After the ruling, Rose quickly left the courtroom, declining to comment. The next day, however, she angrily criticized the judge, saying, “He took the coward’s way out.” “It’s not ended,” Rose explained. “This is just a formality we went through. It will never be over for us until the day Robert dies.” Rose’s lawyer, Stephen Scott, said they will consider filing an appeal after reviewing Judge McNatt’s written decision. In the meantime, a court hearing has been scheduled for February to hear a motion by Siess to have Robert’s mother and sister replace Rose as Robert’s conservators.
Stockton Record, 12/10/97, 12/11/97
Modesto Bee, 12/11/97; AP, 12/10/97