Wendland v. Wendland
26 Cal. 4th 519, 28 P.3d 151 (2001)

  • Robert was involved in a car accident while driving drunk. The accident left him brain damaged, immobile, and dependent on artificial means of life support, but was minimally conscious.
  • Two years later, his wife Rose told the doctors to turn off the artificial life support and allow Robert to die. Robert’s mother and sister sued to stop this from happening.
    • As his wife, Rose was Robert’s conservator, meaning that she had authority to make medical decisions for him.
    • The hospital ethics committee unanimously approved of Rose’s decision.
  • The Trial Court issued a restraining order to keep the machines on, Rose appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that Rose had not met her burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that Robert would want to die.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Robert’s mother and sister appealed
    • The Appellate Court found that the conservator’s good-faith decision was enough, and that the Court didn’t need to determine what Robert would have wanted, he had deferred to Rose’s judgment by making her his conservator.
  • The California Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and sustained the injunction to keep Robert alive.
    • The California Supreme Court found that a conservator may not withhold artificial life support absent clear and convincing evidence the conservator’s decision is in accordance with either the conservatee’s own wishes or best interest.
      • The Court noted that this evidentiary standard does not apply to all decisions made by a conservator, it should be limited to the decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from non-vegetative state conservatees who have not left legally cognizable health care directives.
  • Basically there is a two-part test. If there is no valid health care directive, there must be clear and convincing evidence of both wishes and best interest.
    • This test only applies to people who are not in a persistent vegetative state.