attorney for Florence Wendland & Rebekah Vinson, regarding the California Supreme Court decision and resolution of the Wendland case


Judge Bob McNatt said, in December 1997 when he ruled that Rose Wendland could not order the removal of Robert's feeding tube, that he was making 'the wrong decision for all the right reasons.' In actuality, Judge McNatt made the right decision for all the right reasons -- and the California Supreme Court has affirmed that fact.

On Thursday, August 9, 2001, in a 50 page, unanimous decision authored by Justice Kathryn Werdeger, the California Supreme Court ruled that a California conservator may not order the withdrawal of food and fluids from a conscious, cognitive conservatee unless the conservator proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that to do so would either be consistent with the conservatee's prior expressed wishes or in his/her best interest. In other words, the Court completely agreed with the arguments my clients have advanced since 1995.

Justice Werdeger wisely noted that "the importance of the ultimate decision and the risk of error are manifest. So too should be the degree of confidence required in the necessary findings of fact."  Following the lead of the Michigan and Wisconsin High Courts which, in 1995 and 1997, respectively, refused to start down the "slippery slope" by allowing conscious persons to be starved/dehydrated to death, Justice Werdeger also observed that "[t]he decision to treat is reversible. The decision to withdraw treatment is not."

The Supreme Court was not obligated to rule in this case, in light of Robert's July 17th death, and could have sidestepped the opportunity to resolve this debate. Instead, because of the overriding significance of the issues presented, and the fact that other lives could well be at risk, the Court bravely forged ahead and rendered a decision. I applaud the justices for having the courage to do so, and for having the foresight and commitment to the overriding principles of justice and respect for all human life to make the right decision.

The Third District Court of Appeal began its February 2000, decision with "[t]his is the hardest case." But this wasn't a "hard[] case" at all. To me, this case always presented an issue easily resolved. What Rose Wendland contemplated -- the removal of Robert's feeding tube -- was, in my estimation, barbaric and horrific.  So I have never been able to understand people who characterized the decision the jurists were called upon to make as "agonizing" or "difficult." The correct answer was, to me, always clear, unequivocal, and not even worthy of debate.

On behalf of my clients, Florence Wendland and Rebekah Vinson, as well as Robert's brother, other sisters, and many nieces and nephews, I would like to thank Life Legal Defense Foundation, especially their Executive Director, Dana Cody; Administrator, Mary Riley; and Legal Director, Katie Short, for their unwavering support, assistance, and encouragement throughout the pendency of this case. 

Thanks also go to Wesley J. Smith, Rita Marker, and Kathi Hamlon of the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet, and all the other disability rights organizations who signed the amicus brief lodged in the Court. My clients are infinitely grateful to Dr. Vincent Fortanasce for his tireless devotion to the case and donation of countless hours of medical expertise, and the countless other persons who gave their time and talents to assist us in our successful 6-year battle to prevent Robert from being starved/dehydrated to death, and establish a legal precedent that will give guidance to California courts and prevent other families from suffering the anguish that they have endured since first learning of the plan to bring about Robert's death in July 1995.

I am particularly proud to have had the opportunity to represent Florence Wendland, a mother who exuded unconditional love for her disabled son and unobtrusively lives out her faith each and every day.   Anyone would be privileged to have a mother as loving, accepting, forgiving, and committed to their child as Florence was to Robert and
continues to be to her surviving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She made my work on this case --- however challenging, nerve-wracking, and exhausting --- a joyful, inspiring, and enlightening endeavor.

The Supreme Court decision bearing his name is Robert's legacy --- and, happily, it is a legacy of life. That's truly something to be thankful for and proud of.

Janie Hickok Siess, Esq.
Lodi, California
August 11, 2001    

Ms Siess can be reached at


SOURCE Letter to CHN from Janie Hickok Siess, August 9, 2001