A disabled man with severe brain injuries, Wendland has been the focus of a
six-year court battle to define the rights of conservators to end the lives
of conscious people with cognitive disabilities in the absence of clear
evidence of their wishes.
Only six weeks ago, disability advocates representing ten prominent
disability organizations, lead by Not Dead Yet and including the national
Brain Injury Association, attended oral argument before the California
Supreme Court, after having filed a friend of the court brief in support of
Wendland's mother, Florence. Her attorney, Janie Siess "provided the Court a
compelling analysis of the risks of denying meaningful due process
protections to people with disabilities in health care decision-making," said
Amy Hasbrouck, a disabled Boston attorney and primary author of the
disability brief. "Many of us felt that the high Court Justices asked good
questions, and understood that a disabled person's right to live might, as a
constitutional matter, outweigh a conservator's right to refuse food and
water by tube on their 'behalf' without clear evidence of their wishes."
"We have been hopeful about a ruling in Robert Wendland's favor," said Diane
Coleman, President of Not Dead Yet. "His sudden death is a shocking loss.
Our hearts go out to Florence Wendland, and her attorney Janie Siess, who
tirelessly struggled to save his life." Disability activists are concerned
that, in the weeks leading up to his death, his mother was prohibited from
getting information about his condition, and his sister was prohibited from
visiting. "They were up against some very powerful pro-euthanasia activists,
professionals with a specific long term agenda for health policy, and the
credentials and resources to move that agenda," said Coleman. "But Robert
Wendland's wonderful mother saw him as a person, she saw his humanity as he
kissed her hand. As a disabled person, I honor Florence as someone who
respected Robert Wendland for the man he was after his injury, not just the
man he was before."
The question remains, will those backing Robert Wendland's wife, who has
spent six years seeking the right to starve him to death, avert a California
Supreme Court ruling by arguing that the case is moot. "If the case is
brushed from the docket as moot," says Hasbrouck, "people under guardianship
will continue to be at grave risk, should their intellectual capacity not
measure up, and their speech capacity fail them, and should their 'loved'
ones not love them as persons with disabilities. Our job now is to make sure
that the issue does not go away with Robert Wendland's last breath."
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