Saturday, April 02, 2005
The Sad and Familiar Case of Robert Wendland
Do you remember a fellow called Robert Wendland? No reason why you should. I wrote about him in this space [in The Spectator] in 1998, and had intended to return to the subject but something else always intervened.... Mr Wendland lived in Stockton, California. He was injured in an automobile accident in 1993 and went into a coma. Under state law, he could have been starved to death at any time had his wife requested the removal of his feeding tube. But Rose Wendland was busy with this and that, as one is, and assumed there was no particular urgency.
Then one day, a year later, Robert woke up. He wasn’t exactly his old self, but he could catch and throw a ball and wheel his chair up and down the hospital corridors, and both activities gave him pleasure. Nevertheless Mrs Wendland decided that she now wished to exercise her right to have him dehydrated to death. Her justification was that, while the actual living Robert — the Robert of the mid-1990s — might enjoy a simple life of ball-catching and chair-rolling, the old Robert — the pre-1993 Robert — would have considered it a crashing bore and would have wanted no part of it.
She nearly got her way. But someone at the hospital tipped off Mr Wendland’s mother and set off a protracted legal struggle in which — despite all the obstacles the California system could throw in her path — the elderly Florence Wendland was eventually successful in preventing her son being put down. He has since died of pneumonia, which is sad: the disabled often fall victim to some opportunist illness they’d have shrugged off in earlier times, as Christopher Reeve did. But that’s still a better fate than to be starved to death by order of the state.
Six and a half years later, the Terri Schiavo case is almost identical to Robert Wendland’s — ...
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