Skip to comments.Commentary: The Significance of that Case of the Man Trapped in a "Coma" for 23 Years
Posted on 11/24/2009 3:59:48 PM PST by wagglebee
By Alex Schadenberg, Chairman, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
November 24, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Many people will have read the story of Rom Houben, the Belgium man who was diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for 23 years, but who in fact had a condition known as Locked-in Syndrome. A person in locked-in syndrome is fully aware of all of their surroundings and they hear and remember the conversations that take place around them, but due to their cognitive disability they are unable to respond.
The case of Rom Houben is significant given that many bioethicists are attempting to redefine the status of people in PVS as being similar to "brain death," meaning that it is being argued that these people have lost self-awareness and therefore should be treated as non-persons or dead people. Non-persons do not have the right to live and in fact many bio-ethicists suggest that these people should be treated as organ donors.
Dr. Steven Laureys, the prominent neurologist from Belgium diagnosed Houben as being in a locked-in syndrome rather than PVS based on a brain scan that indicated that Houben's brain was functioning at near to normal response.
Dr. Laureys has released a new study concerning PVS stating: "Anyone who bears the stamp of 'unconscious' just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again." He also stated that: "There may be many similar cases of false comas around the world," and "patients classed in a vegetative state are often misdiagnosed."
The concern about misdiagnosing PVS is not new. Professor Keith Andrews in the UK stated several years ago in his study that 43% of people diagnosed as PVS are misdiagnosed. This is a significant concern in the UK ever since the 1993 court decision that determined that Tony Bland could be dehydrated to death, even though he was not otherwise dying. Since that decision, many people in the UK, who were not otherwise dying, have died by dehydration because it had been determined that they were in PVS.
For instance, Terri Schiavo was dehydrated to death in 2005 based on her diagnosis of PVS and the insistence by her husband that she did not want to live in this manner.
In March 2004, I had the opportunity to be at a presentation in Rome by Dr. Laureys concerning people in a vegetative state. At that presentation Dr. Laureys showed us brain scans of people in PVS and compared them to people who were healthy. By analyzing the brain scans he was able to show us the injured parts of the brain of the PVS patients. He then compared the brain scans of people in PVS to healthy people who were sleeping. There were incredible similarities between the scans of the healthy people who were sleeping to the people who were PVS. He concluded that other than the identifiable injured areas of the brain, medical experts know less about PVS than they would like to admit.
At the same Congress I heard a presentation by an Italian physician who operated an "Awakening Centre." Awakening centers are places that focus on recovery for people who are in a coma state. This physician explained how the use of stimulation techniques have resulted in incredible successes at regaining consciousness for their patients. At a similar Congress in Rome in 2007 I listened to a Polish physician explain about his incredible success at awakening his patients who are in a coma state. How many awakening centers exist in the world? How many in North America?
As executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition I have received many phone calls from friends or family members of people who are in coma. My experience is that medical professionals are too quick to give up on people who are in a coma or cognitively disabled. Family members are often pressured into withdrawing medical treatment or pressured into removing food and fluids from the person in coma, even before they were given a reasonable opportunity for recovery.
Medical professionals need to be far more careful before diagnosing a patient as PVS. If society rejects Hippocratic medicine and accepts euthanasia, the time would come where people in PVS would be treated as non-persons, euthanized out of a concept of false compassion or used as an organ donor based on utilitarian ethics. Since approximately 40% of PVS cases are misdiagnosed, and since the PVS diagnosis is often treated like a death sentence, therefore society needs to reject the current paradigm by once again treating people in coma states as human beings deserving of care.
We must reject the dehumanizing of the PVS patient and develop new techniques to offer them new opportunities for recovery.
See related LifeSiteNews reports:
This is EXACTLY what is happening.
O-Bozos Health Czar would have pulled the plug 22 years ago
Prior to Terri's court-ordered murder, we were constantly told that she didn't "want" to live like that; however, a person with no brain function doesn't actually WANT anything.
During the course of Terri's court-ordered murder she was given massive quantities of morphine so she wouldn't "feel" pain; however, a person with no brain function doesn't actually FEEL anything.
As Terri's court-ordered murder drew to a close we were told she was experiencing "euphoria"; however, it is IMPOSSIBLE for a person with no brain function to be EUPHORIC.
Change you can believe in.
o-bow man voters, hows that change working out for you now.
Hell, Zero never would have let the czars plug it in to begin with.
Already happened to Terri Schiavo. That woman was starved and dehydrated to death and clearly there was life in her.
This proves Terri was “alive” and was murdered even more then I already believed. Amazing a man like Terri knew everything going on around him but was stuck and couldn’t tell people around him.
The left took multiple daily polls in the months leading up to, during and after her murder.
These polls allowed the culture of death to gauge exactly what was and what wasn't acceptable to the majority of the public.
This has since been developed into a template for future murders and they are now setting up Zerocare which will enable them to commit future murders in the name of "fiscal responsibility".
It has all been done before:
Would you be so kind as to provide a couple paragraph synopsis about his case - like.... HOW did he finally get correctly diagnosed?
And... is it possible that there will there be a BIG law suit for malpractice? Or have the genius neurologists got themselves 'covered' against any liability in this 2-plus decades long debacle?
Here is yesterday’s story from LifeNews:
London, England (LifeNews.com) — After he was the victim of an automobile accident, doctors said 23-year-old Rom Houben was in a comatose state and unable to communicate with those around him. Now, 23 years later, the 46-year-old says he felt trapped as he was conscious the entire time and attempted to communicate.
Houben became paralyzed after the crash but, thanks to advances in medical technology, he is now able to tell the world his thoughts via computer.
“I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,” he told the London Daily Mail newspaper.
“I dreamed myself away,” he said of how he coped with the situation. “All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.”
Although tests at the time showed that he was essentially “extinct,” newer tests conducted just three years ago showed Houben’s brain was functioning normally — and his renewed ability to communicate is something he describes as a “second birth.”
“I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me - it was my second birth,” he told the paper. “I want to read, talk with my friends via the computer and enjoy my life now that people know I am not dead.”
British neurological expert Dr. Steven Laureys has described Houben’s case in a new paper and said, “Medical advances caught up with him.”
The paper indicates doctors used the internationally accepted Glasgow Coma Scale to assess his eye, verbal and motor responses, but the results were incorrect.
Laureys says physicians need to not be so quick to label patients as in a vegetative state, because such a diagnosis can be incorrect.
“’Anyone who bears the stamp of “unconscious” just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again,” he said.
American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith commented today on the case and said it has significant implications for the euthanasia and assisted suicide debate.
“We hear constantly that people diagnosed as being persistently unconscious should be dehydrated to death because they are not ‘persons,’ or are actually ‘dead’ — and so should be available for organ harvesting,” he said.
“We hear that even if the family resists, futile care theory should permit bioethics committees to impose unilateral withdrawal. And we hear this even as repeated studies demonstrate that 40 or more percent of patients diagnosed as PVS really aren’t,” he continued.
Smith says “there are abundant reasons to treat people with profound cognitive disabilities as fully human beings.”
“First and foremost, because they are us. Second, because we don’t know enough about how the brain works to know that there won’t be some regeneration to permit eventual restoration of some function. But also, because there is always hope,” he said.
“Houben is here today only because he wasn’t dehydrated to death,” Smith concludes.
“There is no doubt he went through a horrendous experience, but thanks to treating him as a fully equal human being by caring for him all those years and giving him tests late into his disabilityexplicitly refused to Terri Schiavohe is here today to tell tale and live the rest of his life,” he said.
“And for goodness sake, whatever you believe about these issues, don’t talk in the presence of PVS or other apparently unconscious patients as if they aren’t there. Rather, always treat such people as if they can hear you, because sometimes they can,” Smith said.
I was able to read almost half of it; I'll read the other half tommorrow.
I wonder how many other 100s of 1000s of people have been misdiagnosed?
It's just tooooo awful to contemplate.
Thanks again. I shall return.
You know, this is exactly what I tried to tell some of the pro-deathers during the Schiavo debate who claimed they were certain they wouldn't want to live if in Terri's situation. There is just no way to know whether you might be trapped inside your own body screaming for life. I would NEVER sign a directive allowing someone to starve/dehydrate me to death.
There was a piece on the BBC yesterday about this. What I saw for communication is what is called “facilitated communication”. It made a big splash here about 15-16 years ago getting up hopes that people with severe MR could communicate and then it was determined to be not a hoax exactly but not likely to be real communication. Here’s a link to an article about it:
Maybe this is real. I hope it is, but I honestly doubt it.
AP version, they need better diagnostic criteria and functional MRI and/or PET standards before labeling PVS, IMHO.
I was under anesthesia thirty years ago and I became conscious during the middle of the operation. Before I frighten anyone facing surgery nowadays, may I reassure you that anesthesia has come a long way since then. I had no trouble with anesthesia in a recent operation and the head anesthesiologist allayed all my fears. In any case, I know what it feels like to be trapped inside a body unable to communicate, tho this was for a very short time only.
Read what I wrote in post #7. If a person truly has no brain function they DO NOT "want" anything.
The reality is that a lot of people get uncomfortable around the disabled or people they consider "different". Most people learn to adapt, but some would rather eliminate the "problem" rather than feel uncomfortable.