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Disabled Man Requests Death

August 13, 1999

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ Prosecutors won’t oppose a severely disabled man’s request to unplug the hospital ventilator that has kept him alive since 1967, when he broke his neck in a high school gymnasium.

Under New York law, patients can opt to discontinue lifesaving treatment.

What makes Bill White’s circumstances uncommon is that is believed to be one of America’s longest surviving quadriplegics on a ventilator and, because he needs 24-hour care, has rarely left his hospital bed in 32 years.

After a week-long review, Monroe County District Attorney Howard Relin’s office concluded that White ``has the right to refuse treatment.″

``At this point, Bill has indicated he wants to go through with it,″ Strong Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Teri D’Agostino said Thursday. ``We’re still leaving the door open for him to change his mind.″

White, 50, has asked that no details be released, the hospital said.

He asked hospital staff a few months ago to discontinue his ventilator treatment, which in all likelihood would end his life within minutes. The hospital eventually promised to honor his request a week ago but held off when Relin asked to review the case.

Motivated by ``concerns about his deteriorating health,″ White convinced a team of doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and patient advocates that he is mentally competent and not motivated by depression.

He was paralyzed from the neck down in March 1967 when, at age 18, he bounced on a springboard and flew over the parallel bars. A student who was supposed to help him land was not ready. White knocked into him, veered off the mat and crashed headfirst on the wooden floor.

His hospital bill, which exceeds $200,000 a year, is paid by Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the disabled and the indigent.

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