Wife of veteran loses guardianship in right-to-die case Baltimore Co. judge to decide comatose man's fate in 8 weeks

July 03, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

The wife of a comatose Army veteran lost her fight yesterday to remain his legal guardian and move him to Florida, where she is seeking court approval to end his life.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II said yesterday that he will decide in about eight weeks whether former Army private Ronald W. Mack should be allowed to die. In the meantime, he replaced Deanna V. Mack, 28, as her husband's legal guardian with Edward J. Gilliss, the lawyer appointed by the court to represent Mr. Mack.

Mr. Mack suffered serious brain and liver damage in a 1983 car accident in California. He has been a patient for nearly eight years in the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Fort Howard, where he has been in and out of a coma and is being kept alive by gastric feeding tubes.

Yesterday, C. Christopher Brown, Mrs. Mack's lawyer, told the judge that since Mrs. Mack has guardianship over her husband and lives in Florida, she should be allowed to move him there.

Mr. Brown argued that Mr. Mack should be moved to Florida because his family lives there, the couple's two children are being educated there and his wife owns property there.

But Judge Fader ruled that because Mr. Mack had never lived in Florida, he could not be moved there under terms of the guardianship granted to Mrs. Mack in 1984.

"This guy's never been in Florida. Never lived in Florida. Never domiciled there," the judge said.

In May, Baltimore U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis issued a preliminary injunction to block Mrs. Mack from taking her husband to Florida, where she is seeking a court ruling that he is hopelessly brain damaged and that doctors should be allowed to remove his feeding tubes. Mr. Mack would die from starvation in three to 14 days if his feeding tubes were removed, according to court papers.

The injunction was sought by Mr. Mack's sister, Karen Mack Carson, and his father, Ronald E. Mack, who are fighting to keep the 28-year-old veteran in Maryland. They do not want doctors to end his life.

In Maryland, which has no right-to-die law, getting permission to take a person off life support is much more difficult, and even Judge Fader acknowledged that whatever decision he makes is likely to be tied up in appeals court.

After the federal court issued its injunction, Mr. Mack's father and sister filed papers in Baltimore County Circuit Court to block Mrs. Mack's attempt to take the veteran to Florida.

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