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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

“PVS” Patient Communicates “Not in Pain!”



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These stories are worth keeping in mind: In Canada, a patient thought unconscious for ten years was found able to communicate using sophisticated brain scans. From the 2012 BBC story:

Whether a patient is in pain is an important question for physicians. But for patients in a coma, it’s a question that is not likely to be answered. Now, a Canadian man in a vegetative coma who hasn’t spoken for 12 years after a car accident “told” researchers he is not in pain.

Their son’s ability didn’t surprise his parents:

BBC News reported Scott Routley’s parents saying they thought they’d seen their son attempt communication with his thumb or eyes before, but these sentiments were dismissed by medical staff. Although unclear if these were signs of the 39-year-old trying to communicate, scientists know now that Routley, even though he is still considered in a vegetative state, is aware of his surroundings.

It is interesting: I have been frequently told by the families of supposedly unconscious patients–such as Terri Schiavo’s folks and siblings–that their loved one could communicate. But they were usually dismissed by doctors–sometimes arrogantly–as only seeing what they wanted to see.

I concluded, that it is often the reverse: Doctors and bioethicists refusing to see what they don’t want to see. Because patients are conscious and aware, they can’t be dismissed as a “non person” and treated as a lesser form of life.

Back to the story:

ABC News reported John Connolly, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Ontario, saying this type of research that leads to patient interaction is a “very big deal” as some patients are denied certain treatment based on conscious state. He said judging patients solely on observed behavior, if they have trouble communicating, needs to end.

Indeed. I have always considered the dehydration agenda to be invidious discrimination based on “quality of life” bigotry that denies the equal worth of all human beings.

And consider this: These patients may be able to understand bedside conversations. More, they may know they are being dehydrated to death. 

More recent studies indicate that these patients might be “emotionally aware” and “connect complex visual information to memories.”

Will this matter? In the era of Obamacare, it’s awfully inconvenient. My view? We will see increasing advocacy for lethal injection as a palliative medical treatment. 

Scott Routely died in September of 2013. But he died being treated as a fully human being instead of as a so-called human non-person.



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