A judge last night gave guardianship of a comatose soldier to his father in Essex rather than his wife in Florida, who would have been able under that state's law to remove the feeding tubes that have kept him alive for the past eight years.
Deanna Mack wept as Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge John F. Fader II gave his opinion, after three days of emotional testimony and an exhaustive discussion of the issues by attorneys for her, her father-in-law and her husband, Ronald W. Mack, 29, a patient at the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Fort Howard.
C. Christopher Brown, one of Mrs. Mack's lawyers, said last night he didn't know whether they will appeal. If Mrs. Mack decides to appeal, the case would shape the right-to-die issue in Maryland, which has no right-to-die law and few avenues for the refusal or removal of special medical care.
Without the tubes feeding him, Mr. Mack would die within tw weeks, rather than live for an estimated 30 to 40 more years in what specialists for both sides agreed is a persistent vegetative state.
Mr. Mack has been in a coma since June 4, 1983, shortly after he completed Army basic training, caused when he was deprived of oxygen during a car crash in California.
Mrs. Mack, now 28 and living in Dunellon, Fla., testified she thought her once-athletic husband had to continue to exist that way, until she learned of Florida's right-to-die law at their son's Little League game earlier this year.
Ronald Timothy Mack, now 10, asked Judge Fader to have the tubes removed "so he can die and go to heaven and walk and talk and play baseball again."
Mrs. Mack testified Wednesday that her husband told her twice -- once after trying to feed his grandmother Jell-O and again after a friend was shot -- that "if he ever got to the point where he couldn't do for himself, he wouldn't want to live." But Judge Fader ruled that "the evidence is just not there as to how he would view this."
The court action in Maryland began in May, when Ronald Edward Mack was notified of his daughter-in-law's plan and won a U.S. District Court order blocking his son's removal from the state. That court referred the decision on guardianship back to the local court.
Yesterday, Ronald Edward Mack testified that he was a recovering alcoholic who had a sometimes stormy relationship with his son.
But Mr. Mack, his daughter and his son's aunt all told the judge they believe that Mr. Mack is aware and reponds to them.
"Well," the father said, sighing heavily. "The doctors here said he's got 30 to 40 years, probably, and I think somewhere in that 30 or 40 years there's hope for Ronnie."