Health Law Keyed to Furrow
Conservatorship of Wendland
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Robert Wendland (Robert) was involved in a single-vehicle accident resulting in brain injury that left him conscious but severely disabled. He was dependent on the life-supporting treatment of artificial hydration and nutrition which he received through a feeding tube. After a prolonged recovery period, he was able to regain some basic functioning such as operating an electronic wheelchair, drawing circles and performing simple two-step commands. However, he was not able to verbalize and the medical staff was not able to establish a consistent method of communication with him. His medical report noted that he was severely mentally and physically disabled. Rose Wendland, Robert's wife, had agreed to the placement of a feeding tube three different times, but the fourth time she said no when doctors made a request to replace the tube. The doctors agreed, but they inserted a nasogastric tube for feeding until the hospital's ethics committee could make a recommendation. The twenty-member ethics committee unanimously approved of Rose's decision to stop the artificial feedings, but when Robert's mother and sister learned of the plan, they petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order. The order was granted. Rose petitioned the court to become Robert's conservator and sought an order granting her authority to give informed consent for medical treatment and for withholding life-sustaining medical treatment, including hydration and nutrition. The trial court granted the conservatorship and the authority to consent to receiving treatment, but denied authority for withholding treatment. After a 60-day observation period, during which Robert made no progress, Rose, now Conservator (Plaintiff), renewed her petition for authority to withhold treatment. Her request was denied by the trial court, finding insufficient evidence to meet the "clear and convincing" evidentiary standard that Robert, now incapacitated, would not want to receive life-sustaining treatment under these circumstances. However, the court of appeals reversed, acknowledging the evidence that Robert had made statements that he would not want to live as a vegetable, or in a comatose state, or if he were unable to perform basic activities of living such as feeding himself and communicating. This appeal followed.
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