Kenneth Bergstedt, 31, a quadriplegic kept alive by life-support systems since he was a child, waited almost six months for the courts to decide whether he could die peacefully by having a doctor unplug his ventilator after administering a sleeping medication.
The right-to-die request still is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court, but Bergstedt tired of the legal red tape.Ronald Bergstedt, who has cared for his adopted son single-handedly since the death of his wife in 1978, called police Thursday when he found that his son was dead. The quadriplegic had managed to get his breathing tube out of his mouth, officers were told.
State District Judge Donald Mosley granted Bergstedt's right-to-die petition last June but stayed the order until the precedent-setting case could be reviewed by the Nevada Supreme Court. Mosley ruled the death would not be ruled as a suicide and that anyone who helped disconnect the ventilator would not face penalties.
On the day of Bergstedt's death, the Nevada Supreme Court still had not handed down an opinion, despite pleas by family lawyers that the case be expedited.
"I just have to think the considerations that he had must have been very important to him because I know he wanted to set a legal precedent," Mosley said Thursday.
Chief Supreme Court Justice Cliff Young, contacted in Carson City, said the court now will decide whether to consider the case moot because of Bergstedt's death or issue an opinion because of the importance of the case.
"There will be more questions like this." Young said. The chief justice said he favored writing an opinion, but stressed he was only one of five justices. The Supreme Court justices will decide what to do about the case when they convene next week.
Kenneth Bergstedt's greatest fear was that his father would die and that he would have a lingering painful death or be placed in institutional care. The father and son lived alone in a modest mobile home.
"He was afraid he would be all by himself on the machine and drown. It would take him four to six hour to die. It would be a painful process," the elder Bergstedt said in an interview last summer, explaining that the water build up in his son's ventilator had to be drained every hour around the clock.
The younger Bergstedt was paralyzed in a 1969 swimming pool accident in Indiana when he was less than 10 years old.
"He just wanted to go," Bergstedt, 65, said Thursday. "I keep thinking of him and wanting to go in and check on him, but he is gone. They took him away this morning. He will be cremated."
Police spokesman Steve Ducharme said Bergstedt told investigators his son asked him to unplug the life support systems Wednesday night, but that he told him he could not grant the death wish. Ducharme said Bergstedt told officers Thursday morning that he "woke up and saw that the trake tube had been removed and that his son apparently had unhooked himself."
An autopsy is pending and homicide detectives are investigating the death.
The elder Bergstedt was quoted by the Las Vegas Sun Thursday as saying he gave his son 700 milligrams of Seconal and eight or nine Valiums before loosening the life-support system and going to bed.
"We obtained a statement and there now appears to be some controversy in a statement he made to the press. We are looking into that and we are waiting for results of toxocology tests," said Ducharme.
The elder Bergstedt suffers from terminal cancer and believes he has about 30 days to live. He is an amputee who also suffers from high blood pressure and arthritis.
"Investigations sometimes take a long time," Ducharme said.
Attorney Jack Cherry, who represented the Bergstedt family in the right-to-die court petition, said Thursday:
"I guess Kenneth just decided that he had gone as far as he wanted to go. I just hope that he has found whatever peace he was looking for.
No funeral services are planned.