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‘Till Death Do Us Part (And Not Soon Enough)

For the last eight years of their marriage, Rose Wendland had been trying to get her husband, Robert, to live up to his wedding vow. Sure he loved her, respected her. But he did so for much longer than she would have wanted. So Rose enlisted the assistance of the California Supreme Court to enforce his wedding promise — to no avail. Finally on July 17, after 22 years of marriage, Rose got Robert to live up to his vow of “’till death do us part.”

Back in 1993 Robert Wendland suffered a terrible automobile accident that left him in a coma. Rose and their three children spent nearly every day at his bedside. In 1995 Robert emerged from his coma into a “minimally conscious” state — paralyzed, and unable to walk, talk, or feed himself. Later that year, after he failed to improve further, Rose decided to have his feeding and hydration tube removed.

But when Robert’s mother, Florence, was informed, she secured a restraining order to prevent the removal of the tube that provided Robert with food and water. And off to court they went. In 1995 a California Superior Court prohibited Rose from “unplugging” Robert, based on previous decisions that only permitted the removal of the feeding and hydration tube of patients who are either terminally ill or in a vegetative state, neither of which applied to Robert. If his feeding and hydration tube were to have been removed, Robert would have died of dehydration, a process that lasts an estimated 14 days — two excruciatingly painful weeks during which his organs would gradually shut down, his skin would crack, and his tongue would dry, crack, and bleed. (The longest recorded case of death by dehydration is 21 days.) And because Robert was conscious — albeit minimally — he would have experienced all the pain attendant to this type of slow death. He would have to have been heavily medicated and perhaps even put back into a coma in order to prevent suffering.

Rose admitted to the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 2, 2001) that she no longer visited Robert regularly and did not encourage their children — then aged 22, 20, and 15 — to visit him, which they rarely did. Rose scoffed when she was shown the toy box with openings for different shaped blocks that Robert’s mother played with him: “A 1-year-old can do that. Am I happy that…his mom sits there playing those blocks with him? No. It doesn’t mean anything. It disgusts me, to tell you the truth.” According to Rose, Robert “died seven years ago” — i.e., during his automobile accident.

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