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Brain-damaged Patient in Right-to-Live Controversy Dies

July 5, 1991

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ An 86-year-old brain-damaged woman died three days after her husband won a court ruling against doctors who wanted to take her off life-support systems.

Helga Wanglie, of Minneapolis, died Thursday night of natural causes, Hennepin County Medical Center said in a statement.

″We felt that when she was ready to go that the good Lord would call her and I would say that’s what happened,″ Oliver Wanglie said Friday of his wife of 54 years.

″She placed a high value on human life, just like I did,″ he said. ″We were flatly opposed to euthanasia.″

In the opinion of Wanglie, an 87-year-old retired lawyer, unplugging the respirator would have constituted euthanasia.

The case went to court when Hennepin County Medical Center doctors asked District Judge Patricia Belois to appoint an independent conservator to decide Mrs. Wanglie’s fate. They had hoped that a conservator would permit them to take her off the machine that had helped keep her alive since May 1990, when she fell into a persistent vegetative state after a respiratory attack.

On Monday, Belois ruled that such decisions are best left to family members when they are competent. And she said there was no evidence that Wanglie was unable to perform the duties and responsibilities of a guardian.

Doctors believed Wanglie did not fully understand his wife’s hopeless condition.

The hospital did not appeal the ruling.

Dr. Roland Cranford, a medical ethicist at the hospital, said after the court ruling that doctors routinely yield to family wishes about life-support systems. But families rarely disagree when doctors recommend terminating care, he said, adding that it is morally wrong to use a respirator on a severely brain-damaged person who has no hope of recovery.

Mrs. Wanglie’s medical problems began Dec. 14, 1989, when she tripped on a rug. Respiratory problems and pneumonia followed. A respiratory attack at a St. Paul hospital in May 1990 cut off oxygen to her brain, resulting in severe brain damage and her persistent vegetative state.

Mrs. Wanglie was later moved to Hennepin County Medical Center.

In its statement Friday, the medical center said the death certificate lists the primary cause of death as multiple organ failure due to infection. The brain injury was listed as another ″significant condition.″

Wanglie and his daughter, Ruth, said Friday that Helga Wanglie had received excellent medical care at Hennepin County Medical Center. ″We just had a disagreement on ethics,″ the daughter said.

She said a rapidly spreading respiratory infection led to her mother’s death. But in the past three weeks there were other severe complications, including kidney failure, low blood pressure, a bleeding ulcer and a drop in body temperature.

DS-07-05-91 1520EDT

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