Man Dies After Judge Refuses Request to Reinstate Life Support

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 19, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Man Dies After Judge Refuses Request to Reinstate Life Support

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 19, 2003

Portland, OR ( — Douglas Schmidt died Tuesday at a Portland hospital, just one day after a local judge refused a request by his sister and partner to reinstate life support.

Schmidt died minutes before 8 AM this morning and his mother and stepfather, Victor and Sandra Wierzba, were present at the time.

"He died peacefully and with dignity," Victor Wierzba told the Portland Oregonian newspaper.

Greg Schmidt, Douglas’ older brother, said his family was drained and was just glad everything was over.

Douglas was removed from a ventilator on Sunday, despite the objections of his partner and sister. Other family members supported the decision.

However, Werth Sargent, Schmidt’s partner, said the decision to remove life support was cruel.

"If God makes the decision, that’s one thing," he said. "This wasn’t God."

Stephanie Wight, Douglas’ sister, agreed with Sargent and accused Schmidt’s other family members and the court-appointed guardian of wanting to end his life when there was still hope for his recovery.

Circuit Judge Katherine Tennyson on Tuesday rejected their attempt to put him back on a ventilator.

"I see no reason to change the decision that has been made," she said.

Schmidt, 37, had been unconscious and severely brain damaged since March when he collapsed in his Portland apartment after a seizure when his medication for epilepsy ran out.

Though Terri Schiavo, the subject of a similar debate in Florida, is not in a coma and is able to breathe on her own, the seizure put Schmidt in one.

He has been in Portland Adventist Medical Center since late October when he was moved from a nearby convalescent care home because of serious medical conditions involving pneumonia, a collapsed lung, infection and kidney failure.

Sandra Wierzba, of California, said she loves her son but decided to, along with a court appointed guardian and some other family members, remove him from the ventilator keeping him alive. Unlike Terri, he is not responding to any attempts to communicate.

"If he gave me one look of acknowledgment that he knows who I am," she said, "then I would fight for his life."

Schmidt’s sister says the decision was wrong.

"Somebody is killing somebody, and it’s not right," Wight said. “At least to the very end I did what I could for him."

Schmidt ran out of the medication about eight days prior to the seizure. He was covered under a state program that paid $13 a day for the pills, but the program was cut from the Oregon state budget.