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Judge Upholds Right To Die Decision

September 22, 1998

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) _ Once, Hugh Finn made a career out of talking.

Now the television anchorman lies in a hospital bed as his family argues over whether he can say or even understand the word ``Hi.″

Finn’s brain was deprived of oxygen when his aorta ruptured in a car crash 3 1/2 years ago in Louisville, Ky. Doctors say the 44-year-old man has little to no chance of recovering.

Michele Finn, his wife and legal guardian, wants to remove Finn’s feeding tube and let him die. A judge who last month granted her permission upheld his decision Monday despite testimony that Finn recently spoke to a nurse.

But the judge gave relatives until Sept. 30 to challenge his ruling.

At Monday’s hearing, Prince William Circuit Judge Frank A. Hoss Jr. was presented with an affidavit from a nurse who visited Finn on Friday at the Annaburg Manor Nursing Home.

Marie Saul, sent by the Department of Medical Assistance Services, said Finn replied ``Hi″ when she greeted him. She said she saw Finn smooth his hair with his right hand, although he didn’t respond to other questions she asked.

The nurse also said Finn looked healthier than other vegetative patients she has seen.

Gregory Murphy, an attorney for Michele Finn, said Finn does not really react, but simply makes guttural noises and movements.

``If you are looking to hear something, it may be what you want to hear,″ Murphy told the judge.

He argued that Finn did not respond in any intelligible way to anything else during the two hours that Ms. Saul spent with him.

Joseph McGuire, an attorney for Finn’s family, said that even one correct reaction is all that is needed.

``It’s inconvenient that Hugh said `Hi,′ but he did,″ McGuire said. ``If he comes out of this .001 percent of the time, he’s not in a persistent vegetative state, he’s a human being.″

Mrs. Finn’s decision has sharply divided the family. In the courtroom before the hearing, Finn’s mother and sister argued about the case loudly.

Joan Finn, who lives in nearby Woodbridge, said she sees her son nearly every day. He holds her hand and reacts when she asks him questions, she said.

``I just can’t say OK, this is it, we’ll put you in the grave,″ she said. ``Once they put you in the grave, there’s nothing you can do.″

Michele Finn, who still lives in Kentucky with the couple’s two daughters, said she was relieved by Hoss’ decision.

``I very firmly know what (Hugh) would want and I stay focused on that, not what anybody else wants,″ she said.

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