Md. feeding-tube case pits wife against mother

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — A judge in Maryland must decide if a man who suffered severe brain damage after a heart attack should continue getting sustenance through a feeding tube at his mother's and brother's behest, contrary to his wife's instructions.

A Frederick County Circuit Court judge will hear arguments Wednesday in the case involving Daniel Sanger, 55, of Rohrersville. The unemployed computer technician lost much of his speaking ability and mobility after a heart attack in July, according to his brother Mark Sanger, a Eugene, Ore., businessman.

Mark Sanger said Monday that his brother can comprehend speech and swallow soft food but not enough to keep him alive. He said Daniel Sanger also has an infected bed sore on his back that is life-threatening because it's not being treated.

"It just seems absurd to me to provide life-sustaining nutrition while at the same time denying life-sustaining medical care," Mark Sanger said.

Daniel Sanger's wife, Leta Sanger, consented Oct. 16 to have her husband's feeding tube removed, according to court records. Mark Sanger and his mother, Phyllis Sanger of Colonial Beach, Va., got a temporary court order Oct. 20 to have it reinserted. Now they want it permanently restored.

They also are seeking guardianship of Daniel Sanger so they can direct his care.

The legal battle is reminiscent of the one involving Terry Schiavo, a Florida woman with brain damage who died in 2005 after her feeding tube was removed. Schiavo's husband wanted her feeding tube removed, against the wishes of her parents.

Daniel Cox, the attorney for Mark Sanger and his mother, is a member of the Alliance Defense Fund. The Christian-based legal network says it is dedicated to protecting the sanctity of life and also was involved in Schiavo's case.

Under Maryland law, Leta Sanger can make her husband's medical decisions because he did not put his wishes in legal documents and did not appoint someone else to be a decision-maker.

"It really speaks to putting all wishes in writing so that our families don't have to become torn and we don't have to go the legal route to advocate for us," said Regina Bodnar, president of the Hospice and Palliative Care Network of Maryland.

Leta Sanger didn't return telephone calls from The Associated Press. She told The Frederick News-Post on Oct. 21 that her husband had told her many times before his heart attack he would not want to be kept alive by invasive means.

"He said, 'I definitely don't want to live that way.' He doesn't want to live with the tubes," she told the newspaper.

But attorney Cox says Daniel Sanger told his mother and doctor he wanted to live.

Cox and Phyllis Sanger declined to be interviewed about the case by the AP.

Mark Sanger said his mother claims Daniel made the statement at Frederick Memorial Hospital sometime after he was moved there from a nursing home in late September or early October. At the nursing home, Daniel was speaking short phrases, eating solid food and standing up on his own before his health declined due to complications from the bed sore, Mark Sanger said.

He and his mother claim Leta Sanger is mentally unfit to direct her husband's medical care. But at a court hearing Thursday, a judge said they could not obtain Motor Vehicle Administration records that they claim would support that argument.

Leta Sanger's lawyer, Alan Winik, said during the hearing that her in-laws had no legal authority to direct Daniel Sanger's care.

He declined to comment after the hearing.

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