Father gets custody of son Right-to-die issue at center of custody battle over man, 29.

November 15, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

Custody of Ronald W. Mack, who has been near-comatose for eight years, has been awarded to his father.

After three days of testimony during an often emotional hearing, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge John F. Fader yesterday transferred guardianship of Mack, 29, from court-appointed attorney Edward Gillis to Mack's father, Ronald E. Mack.

"I believe I am absolutely required by Maryland law to say that the state's interest in preservation of life leads to the choice of life, no matter how that quality of life may be diminished in my eyes," Fader said.

The younger Mack, of Essex, has been a patient at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Medical Center for most of the past eight years, after a car crash in California in 1983 left him severely brain-damaged.

His wife, Deanna V. Mack, who is 28, was seeking to regain custody of her husband, with the intention of moving him to Florida, where she would petition to have his feeding tubes removed under that state's right-to-die law.

Deanna moved to Florida with their two children a year after the accident. She cried when Fader announced his decision.

"I think Judge Fader made the right choice, and I think he did it fairly," said the elder Mack, who testified yesterday that his son would not want his feeding tube removed.

"Deanna knew him a very short time. I knew my son all his life . . . when there was a problem, Ronnie ran to me."

In her closing arguments, Rachel A. Wohl, who represented Deanna Mack, reminded the court of a statement the younger Mack had made to his wife after a visit to his grandmother in a nursing home.

"He said to his wife, in a very serious manner, 'I do not want to live unless I can do for myself,' " Wohl said.

"Ronnie Mack today cannot do anything for himself . . . he cannot swallow . . . he is in what I believe, and what Deanna Mack believes, would be his worst nightmare."

But Gary Strausberg, who represented Mack's father, said testimony given at the hearing was conflicting.

Mack's father and aunt had testified that, after the death of his mother, the younger Mack had expressed the wish she could have been saved by surgery, even if she would have been brain-damaged.

"[The younger Mack] would want to be kept alive as long as he could be kept alive," Strausberg said. "I understand that Deanna wants to get on with her life . . . but the right to get on with her life does not give her the license to terminate the life of another human being."

A decision on whether to appeal has not been made.

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