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Va. Appeals Feeding Tube Removal

October 1, 1998

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) _ Gov. Jim Gilmore said today he will appeal a judge’s ruling that he cannot prevent a woman from removing a feeding tube that has kept her comatose husband alive for 3 1/2 years.

The judge’s decision early today would allow Michele Finn to withhold food and water from Hugh Finn, allowing him to die. The family said it would not announce when the tube is removed, and no one at the nursing home where Finn lives would say today whether that has occurred.

Gilmore said he would appeal Prince William Circuit Judge Frank Hoss Jr.’s ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court. No appeal had been filed late this morning, a court clerk said.

``I believe my job as governor, my role is to protect those people who are most frail in society and cannot necessarily protect themselves,″ Gilmore said at a news conference.

In a dramatic clash over the right to die, Gilmore went to court Wednesday night to stop Mrs. Finn from removing the tube, something she said her husband would have wanted. State attorneys filed their motion little more than an hour before the tube could legally have been removed.

Under Virginia law, life-sustaining treatment may be stopped if a person is in a persistent vegetative state. Doctors have said that is the condition Finn is in.

Assistant Attorney General William Hurd argued that removing the tube would amount to euthanasia, but Hoss disagreed in rejecting the state’s request.

``The governor says Hugh Finn is not in a persistent vegetative state. This court has found otherwise,″ the judge said.

Hoss said he believes Virginia law allows withholding food and water.

``It merely permits the natural process of dying,″ he said. ``It does not relate to mercy killing or euthanasia.″

Mrs. Finn wept during the hearing and afterward angrily denounced Gilmore for intervening and ``putting me through sheer hell.″

``They obviously have total disregard for me and my husband’s wishes _ not only for me, but for the laws of this state,″ Mrs. Finn said.

Gilmore went to court at the request of Mrs. Finn’s sister, Elaine Glazier of Philadelphia. She said today that Finn was able to speak before a drug he was taking was cut off in March.

``I think Hugh’s in there. He’s locked in. I went to the last place I could,″ Glazier said.

Finn, a 44-year-old former Louisville, Ky., television news anchor, ruptured his aorta in a traffic accident in March 1995, depriving his brain of oxygen and leaving him unable to eat, care for himself or communicate.

Gilmore said state law gives him the right to act on behalf of Virginia citizens when he determines existing procedures fail to adequately protect legal rights and interests.

The state’s top health official contacted members of Finn’s family Wednesday evening and asked them to reconsider whether the state should intervene. Hours earlier, the state gave Finn’s family a report confirming the diagnosis that Finn is in a persistent vegetative state.

In June, his wife told the family she wanted to remove her husband’s feeding tube. She said her husband had told her that he would not wish to live in such a condition.

The case became more complicated on Sept. 18 when a nurse employed by the state visited Finn and filed a report saying he told her ``Hi″ and smoothed his hair during the hour and 15 minutes she watched him.

Mrs. Finn and her attorney contended the nurse was mistaken, that Finn does not really react but simply makes guttural noises and movements.

Mrs. Finn’s decision to remove the tube caused a split in the family.

John Finn, Hugh Finn’s brother, went to court to stop her. But Hoss ruled Aug. 31 that Mrs. Finn would remain her husband’s guardian and had the right to remove the tube. Hoss set a Sept. 30 deadline for appealing his ruling.

John Finn initially said he planned to take the case to the Virginia Supreme Court. But on Monday, the family agreed to end their legal dispute, leaving Finn’s wife free to remove the tube when the appeal deadline expired.

The feeding tube provides the food and water that keeps Finn alive. Without it, he would become dehydrated, his kidneys would fail, he would go into a coma and die within a couple of weeks, said Dr. Robin Merlino, medical director at the nursing home.

Robert Marshall, a Virginia legislator who has pressed the state to intervene on Finn’s behalf, said Wednesday night he would conduct a fast to support saving Finn.

Update hourly