Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If You’re Not Conscious, You’re Dead

Over the last few days the media have been marveling at the story of Belgian Rom Houben. In 1983, at age 20, Rom was severely injured in a car accident. He was diagnosed as being in a persistent non-responsive state (derogatorily often referred to as a persistent vegetative state).

Doctors using the standard diagnostic protocols reconfirmed Rom’s diagnosis several times over the years. Medical opinion was that he was severely brain damaged and permanently unconscious.

Doctors urged that his nutrition and hydration be removed so that he could die.

Thankfully, Rom’s mom refused.

For 23 years.

Then, enter Dr. Steven Laureys, who used state-of-the art diagnostic technology (unavailable until very recently) to examine Rom’s brain function.

Surprise, surprise.

Rom’s brain function was almost normal.

Bigger surprise: Rom was conscious.

He had been conscious for every one of those for those 23 long years, but was physically completely unable to move to tell anyone (he can’t even cry).

Using a fairly low-tech communication board and the tiniest movement of one finger, he’s now connected to his loved ones and the world.

Much of the media, and many bioethicists, are falling over themselves to spin this as the rarest of events.

Nope – there are hundreds of similar cases reported and validated worldwide.

Here’s the chilling part (after you get over trying to imagine what it’s like to be able to hear everything going on around you for 23 years but can’t let anyone know):

Bioethics is well on the way to redefining what death is. If some get their way, Rom would have most decidedly been pronounced ”dead” after his initial diagnosis years ago because others would have decided that (a) Rom had no quality of life and (b) because keeping people like Rom alive is futile, his organs could have been harvested for transplantation.

Making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak.

Imagine the unspeakable horror of being conscious and being starved and dehydrated to death, or euthanized for your organs.

No doubt in my mind that it’s already happened – repeatedly.

I’m also left with an even more heartrending question:

What might have been if Terri's husband had allowed Dr. Laureys to examine Terri Schiavo?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are aware that the "communication board" in question was really just faciliated communication, right? The irony of you uncritically posting this story shouldn't be lost.