Man 'wouldn't want to live' on life-support, wife says Army veteran's wife, son testify in favor of removing feeding tubes.

November 14, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

The wife of a near-comatose Army veteran cried on the witness stand as she recounted her memories of the year following the accident that damaged her husband's brain.

"I had difficulty going anywhere," testified Deanna V. Mack. Her husband, Ronald M. Mack, 28, has been a patient at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Medical Center for most of the time since the 1983 California car crash.

"I went to the grocery store, and when I was paying for my things, if anything went by that he used to eat I would just cry," she said yesterday during the second day of a hearing that could decide whether Mack can be removed from a life-support system.

Deanna Mack is seeking to regain custody of her husband, with the intent of moving him to Florida, where she would seek to have hisfeeding tubes removed under that state's right-to-die law. She moved to Florida with their two children a year after the veteran's accident.

Mack's father and sister were granted an injunction to keep Deanna Mack from moving her husband, leading to the hearing. Custody was turned over to a guardian.

Through testimony heard yesterday by Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge John F. Fader, friends and family of Mack disagreed over whether the veteran would have wanted to be kept alive in his current state.

Under questioning from her attorney, Rachel A. Wohl, Deanna Mack testified that her husband once told her following a visit to his grandmother in a nursing home that "if he ever couldn't do for himself, he wouldn't want to live."

Deanna denied that her motives for seeking to remove Mack's tubes are monetary, testifying that she would have more to gain financiallyif she divorced her husband than if he were allowed to die.

She testified that her husband had an unusual dislike for hospitals, recalling several occasions when he refused to go to a hospital even after receiving injuries that she thought warranted a doctor's care.

Her husband "wouldn't go to a hospital, not even to take his own son," Deanna Mack said.

Mack's son, Ronald T. Mack, 10, also testified in favor of removing his father's feeding tube, "so he can slowly die and go to heaven, so he can walk and talk and play baseball again."

But Gary Strausberg, the attorney representing the veteran's father, Ronald T. Mack, questioned Deanna Mack as to why she had said during a deposition that she would not divorce Mack because he was Catholic, and yet was seeking to end his life. "Don't you think it would also be against the Catholic [belief] to remove his feeding tube?" Strausberg asked.

"I believe that when God calls you, it's your time to go and it's not up to man to keep you by artificial means," she said.

But the veteran's sister, Karen L. Carson, and aunt, Mary Bell, both testified that the veteran wouldn't want his tube removed, calling him "a fighter," and said that as long as Mack is alive, there is hope for his recovery.

"In order to maintain life at whatever level, one needs nourishment," Bell said. "And he is entitled to that nourishment. And I want Ronnie to live."

Carson testified that her brother can understand her when she speaks to him and will respond to requests to squeeze her hand with his, or wiggle his toes.

"He's a fighter; he has always been a fighter," she said. "He's strong and healthy. We never know what could come through medical technology."

Mack's father was to testify today.

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