MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- An 86-year-old brain-damaged woman -- the focus of a dispute that added a new twist to the debate over euthanasia -- has died three days after her husband won a court ruling against doctors who wanted to take her off life-support systems.
Helga Wanglie, of Minneapolis, died Thursday night of natural causes, Hennepin County Medical Center said in a statement.
"We felt that when she was ready to go that the good Lord would call her, and I would say that's what happened," Oliver Wanglie said yesterday of his wife of 54 years.
In the opinion of Mr. Wanglie, an 87-year-old retired lawyer, unplugging the respirator would have constituted euthanasia.
The case went to court when Hennepin County Medical Center doctors asked District Judge Patricia Belois to appoint an independent conservator to decide Mrs. Wanglie's fate. They had hoped that a conservator would permit them to take her off the machine that had helped keep her alive since May 1990, when she fell into a persistent vegetative state after a respiratory attack.
On Monday, Judge Belois ruled that such decisions are best left to family members when they are competent. She said there was evidence that Mr. Wanglie was unable to perform the duties and responsibilities of a guardian.
Doctors believed Mr. Wanglie did not fully understand his wife's hopeless condition.
The hospital did not appeal the ruling.
Mrs. Wanglie's medical problems began Dec. 14, 1989, when she tripped on a rug. Respiratory problems and pneumonia followed. A respiratory attack at a St. Paul hospital in May 1990 cut off oxygen to her brain, resulting in severe brain damage and her persistent vegetative state.
Mrs. Wanglie was later moved to Hennepin County Medical Center.
In its statement, the medical center said the death certificate lists the primary cause of death as multiple organ failure due to infection.