State High Court Will Hear Wendland Case (2000)

State High Court Will Hear Wendland Case

By Nicole Casal, News-Sentinel staff writerLodi News-Sentinel

June 23, 2000

The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving a brain-damaged man who has been living at Lodi Memorial Hospital-West since 1993 when he crashed his truck near Lodi while driving drunk.

Now, seven years later, Robert Wendland is fed through a tube.

He can’t speak or walk, but is able to maneuver his wheelchair a little.

He spent 16 months in a coma after the accident which happened at the Highway 12 onramp to Interstate 5.

When Rose Wendland, his wife and conservator, decided to take him off life support in 1995, Robert Wendland’s mother and sister disagreed and filed a lawsuit.

The high-profile right-to-life case has been making its way through the courts for five years. It gained national attention as a segment on NBC’s “Dateline” program in 1997. Now, the decision as to who has the authority to preserve — or take — Robert Wendland’s life is up to a seven justices of the state’s high court who voted unanimously to hear the case.

“I’m obviously thrilled,” said Janie Hickok Siess, the attorney who filed the appeal for Robert Wendland’s mother, Florence Wendland.

She argues that it is unethical to allow a person to die by the means that Wendland would if his wife and the Lodi Memorial Hospital ethics panel had their way.

“If you pull out that tube, he will die from dehydration and starvation,” Siess said. “If you starve to death a conscious person, they feel pain.”

Had the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case, like it does 95 percent of the cases that are appealed to it, then Siess said she would have taken it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

No matter where it ends up, Jim Braden, the court appointed independent counsel for Robert Wendland, thinks Rose Wendland’s decision will stand, and her husband, he said, will be able to die with dignity.

Braden, who researched both sides of the case before deciding which position to take, is the second independent counsel to side with Rose Wendland.

He said that in the weeks before the accident, Wendland’s father-in-law was very ill, and was being kept alive by life support. It was at that time that the man told his wife and a relative that he didn’t ever want to become like that.

Braden added that on three occasions Wendland has pulled out the feeding tube which is surgically inserted into his stomach.

Braden and Rose Wendland’s attorney separately appealed Judge Bob McNatt’s preliminary decision in 1997 that would have kept Robert Wendland alive. However, the state’s Third District Court of Appeal ruled in February to send the case back to the San Joaquin County Superior Court. It was then that Siess appealed to the California Supreme Court. In accepting the case for review, the Supreme Court justices gave no indication when the appeal would be heard.

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