Wendland Goes to California Supreme Court

Dana Cody

Thank you to all our readers who continue to support LLDF with their prayers, time, and donations. On May 30, 2001, your prayers were answered when Janie Hickok Siess argued for Robert Wendland’s right to life on behalf of Florence Wendland, Robert’s mother, and Rebekah Vinson, Robert’s sister, before the State Supreme Court.

I had the privilege to watch oral argument and it was a sight to behold.

The Wendland case centers around Robert, a cognitively disabled man close to 50 years of age. Due to Robert’s disability he had to be fed with a feeding tube, and Rose Wendland, Robert’s wife, sought leave of the court to end Robert’s life by removing the tube. At issue is whether or not as Robert’s conservator, Rose has the authority under the law to do so. Keep in mind that Robert recently bowled a 175 from his wheelchair.

Each side had thirty minutes to present its case. During that time the attorneys were pelted with questions from each of the seven justices. The “other side” divided their time into ten-minute segments among Robert Wendland’s court appointed attorney, Rose Wendland’s attorney, and one attorney representing the interest of amici, the Alliance of Catholic Healthcare.

Janie flawlessly answered every question, championing Robert’s right to life, while the other side sat there slack jawed. Then it was their turn. The other side was unable to adequately answer any question presented by the court. When asked what evidence there was in the record of acting in Robert’s best interests, as required by Probate Code section 2355, they could find no adequate answer. The justices patiently responded by rephrasing the question again and again.When asked whether or not ending Robert’s life based only on a preponderance of the evidence, as required by Probate Code section 2355,would violate Robert’s fundamental right to life, their answers were off point and confusing.

At one point the justices tried to help Rose’s dazed and confused dream team by naming instances under the law where higher standards are used to ensure the law protects citizen’s rights, such as deportation, sterilization, and parental rights. The justices did everything but beg for an answer that might align Robert’s situation with that of someone in a permanent unconscious state. Still, the team of pro-death attorneys remained dazed and confused, unable to give any suitable answer as to why Robert’s life should be ended based on an educated guess rather than by the clear and convincing standard required in analogous situations.

It was obvious by the court’s questioning that the justices understand that if Robert’s feeding tube was removed a conscious, interactive human being would die by starvation and dehydration. For example, when Rose Wendland’s attorney stated that Robert could not communicate, Chief Justice George corrected the assertion by stating that the record shows clearly that Robert can communicate. It appeared that only Justice Kennard fell for the absurd line of reasoning that Robert is “minimally conscious,”—that there are different levels of consciousness and Robert’s level was minimal. During oral argument she posited that perhaps Robert may be less conscious than you or I.

Robert may have had a minimal level of understanding due to his cognitive disability but he was just as conscious as you or I, or an infant, or someone with Alzheimers. As we in the pro-life movement know, you cannot be just a little pregnant. You either are or you are not. It’s time we learn the same about consciousness! Hopefully oral argument is an indication of what the court’s opinion will hold, that [those like] Robert Wendland will not be allowed to die by starvation and dehydration absent clear and convincing evidence, otherwise the law jeopardizes the fundamental right to life.

Please pray that the court will hold that the California probate code provisions related to this case unconstitutional, or at the very least will value life rather than political correctness. Any other holding will jeopardize the right to life of the most vulnerable members of our society, the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill.

Please rest assured that your ongoing support of LLDF has proven to be an invaluable resource in the fight to save the life of those in Robert’s situation by setting precedent that will translate into many lives saved. Any other result will mean an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.