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Wendland v. Wendland

    Brief Fact Summary. Robert Wendland (Conservetee) was in a car accident that left him conscious but severely physically and mentally disabled. Conservator wife, Rose Wendland (Conservator), sought permission to have Conservetee’s feeding tube removed. Conservetee’s mother and sister objected.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a conservator seeks to remove life sustaining treatment for a conservetee, she must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the conservetee wished to refuse life-sustaining treatment or that to withhold such treatment would have been in the conservetee’s best interest.

    Facts. Conservetee rolled his truck at high speed in a solo car accident. As a result of the accident, Conservetee was left severely impaired both physically and mentally. Throughout the treatment of Conservetee, Conservator visited him daily, often accompanied by their children, and authorized treatment as necessary to maintain Conservatee’s health. Conservator had authorized three surgical procedures to fix the placement Conservetee’s feeding tube. When requested to approve a fourth operation, Conservator sought the opinion of Conservetee’s brother, her daughter, and Conservetee’s physicians. After refelction, Conservator determined that Conservetee would have not wanted anymore life sustaining measures to be taken. Conservator sought approval from the court to have the feeding tube removed and to let Conservetee die. Conservator presented evidence, attested to be Conservetee’s brother and daughter, that Conservetee would not have wanted to stay alive given his conditions. Conserve
    tee’s mother and sister objected. The lower court ruled for Conservetee’s sister and mother. The appellate court ruled for Conservator. Conservetee’s sister and mother appeal to this Court.

    Issue. If a conservator seeks to remove life sustaining treatment for a conservetee, must she prove by clear and convincing evidence that the conservetee wished to refuse life-sustaining treatment or that to withhold such treatment would have been in the conservetee’s best interest?

    Held. Yes. If a conservator seeks to remove life sustaining treatment for a conservetee, she must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the conservetee wished to refuse life-sustaining treatment or that to withhold such treatment would have been in the conservetee’s best interest. This interpretation is in accord with California state law pertaining to the removal of life sustaining treatment for a conscious conservetee who is not terminally ill, comatose, or in a persistent vegetative state, and who has not left formal instructions for health care or appointed an agent or surrogate for health care decisions. Competent adults have the right to refuse medical treatment, even that which would sustain life. These same adults have the right to delegate to another trusted individual a healthcare proxy based upon their desired disposition should tragedy strike. A conservator, however, unlike an appointed healthcare proxy, is appointed by the Court to care for the best wishes of the c
    onservetee. The conservator is expected to make decisions according to the best wishes of the conservetee, based upon medical opinions and personal knowledge of the conservetee’s desires. Based upon the clear and convincing standard that should be employed in this case, we find that the lower court properly held for Conservator’s sister and mother. If the standard employed were lower than clear and convincing, the Court risks infringing a fundamental right of the conservetee to privacy and life. The risk involved in this matter is great because it concerns continuing or ending the life of a conservetee. Unless the lower court found that that sufficiency of the evidence allowed for the Conservator to order the withdrawl of feeding tubes in accord with Conservetee’s best interests, there is not enough evidence to satisfy the clear and convincing standard.

    Discussion. The issues presented in this case are both legally and medically complex. Because of the increased use of end-of-life life sustaining medical treatments, these issues are increasingly relevant. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a state has an interest in maintaining life, and so conservators arguing for the removal of life sustaining treatment must overcome this interest in order to have a Court approve the desired action.


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