Euthanasia has a tendency to slide from the voluntary to the compulsory, as people increasingly make judgments on behalf of others as to what is a human life worth living. The opinion is widespread that the persistent vegetative state — the condition in which a person with some kind of brain injury remains alive but unresponsive to stimuli — is one such life not worth living.

The problem is a complex one. A recent paper in The Lancet, from researchers in Cambridge, England, and Liege, Belgium, describes a method by which they proved that, of 16 patients in a persistent vegetative state, 3 demonstrated, by means of electro-encepahalograph (brainwave) recordings, that they were able to follow instructions, in this case to imagine either their hand or big toe making a movement.

Perhaps even more alarming, the EEG recordings of three of the sixteen normal control subjects, who were given the same task to perform and who were undoubtedly fully conscious (though students of psychology), did not reliably show that they had been able to follow instructions

In other words, while a positive test shows that there is a fair degree of consciousness, a negative test does not show an absence of such a degree of consciousness. The possibility remains that an unknown but large proportion of people in a persistent vegetative state retain a higher level of consciousness than hitherto believed, certainly by those inclined to call them “vegetables” as a prelude to withdrawing all treatment. As I used to tell my medical students, we must always remember that just because a patient cannot speak it does not mean that he cannot hear (and understand). There is a tendency to talk in the presence of the unresponsive as though they were there.

Of course, it is also true that being able reliably to imagine moving a hand or toe in response to a command to do so does not constitute a worthwhile life. It might very well be that consciousness makes the persistent vegetative state far worse than it would have been if accompanied by complete unconsciousness. Surely, no one would wish the condition of consciousness while in a persistent vegetative state upon himself if he had an alternative.

However, this is not quite the same thing as saying that such a life is not worth living. Whether a life is worth living can be judged only by the person living it. Most young people, if asked, say that life would not be worth living for them in a state of tetraplegia (paralysis from the neck down); most tetraplegics, though, do not agree, and do not want to die, much less ask for voluntary euthanasia by fatal injection or withdrawal of treatment.

Where does this leave medical ethics? Health economists would have no doubts: the money spent to keep a person in a persistent vegetative state alive could be better spent in some other way; that is to say, it would result in more health benefit per dollar expended. This, of course, depends upon there being a comparative measure of health benefit that is reliable and uniform across all situations and circumstances, like the utilitarians’ supposed unit of pleasure, which is very doubtful.

We are always, then, acting to some extent in the dark, not only because we are imperfectly informed and there are things that we do not know (such as the thoughts and feelings, if any, of patients in a persistent vegetative state), but because not all things are commensurable even if known. As Hippocrates put it quite a long time ago, judgment is difficult.

Comments

leighmf's picture
leighmf 8 years 1 week ago
#1
Quote Calperson:

Whether a life is worth living can be judged only by the person living it. Most young people, if asked, say that life would not be worth living for them in a state of tetraplegia (paralysis from the neck down); most tetraplegics, though, do not agree, and do not want to die, much less ask for voluntary euthanasia by fatal injection or withdrawal of treatment.

As Hippocrates put it quite a long time ago, judgment is difficult.

1. Death by suicide cannot be said to be judged by a person who has a chemical problem in their brain telling them their life is not worth living. In that state, the possessor of the life has no judgment and is incompetent.

Unfortunately the Police have developed an idealogy called Suicide by Cops which allows them to hold trial, pass judgment, and shoot to kill a mentally disabled citizen rather than use techniques to subdue an uncontrollable, sick, but dangerous to others patient who should be hospitalized and treated for their disease.

2. If you are going to make statements like "most" to describe the responses of two groups, you must be more specific as to the number assigned to the generalization "most." Or, you should cite a published experiment by authors who have proved that "most" is true by including a Table of Data that assigns a number to "most" by testing the theory.

3. I am just curious as to when Hippocrates made the statement, "judgment is difficult," long ago, and in what context? Are you saying it related to taking people off life support or euthanasia of humans?

Bush_Wacker's picture
Bush_Wacker 8 years 1 week ago
#2

This is a very deep and thought provoking post. I realize that it's a copy/paste but I'm impressed with the post Cal. It gives me much to ponder.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments

Come Cruise with Thom Hartmann in July 2020

Join me for an exciting Bermuda getaway aboard Oceania Cruises, the world’s leading culinary and destination-focused cruise line. Set sail on the reimagined Insignia for 7 nights beginning July 25th 2020. Take advantage of Oceania Cruises’ OLife Choice promotion, where you can choose shore excursions, a beverage package, or onboard credit – Oceania Cruises also includes Wifi! You'll also receive complimentary gratuities, a $50 onboard credit and two exclusive cocktail parties. Did I mention we are planning special onboard events with yours truly? Prices start at $1199.

Reserve your stateroom today by contacting Keene Luxury Travel, and mention the Thom Hartmann Group 800.856.1155

or go to https://www.keeneluxurytravel.com/th-bermuda/default.asp

Community Archive

Behold The Trump's Crime Family's Disrespect of Life & Humanity....

Thom plus logo In a time when wildlife populations around the world are crashing, endangered species tremble on the verge of extinction, and the entire web of life is at risk, the son of the President of the United States went to Mongolia and shot an endangered species, the largest sheep in the world with 6 foot horns.