Friday, September 08, 2006

from the 'absence of evidence isn't evidence of abscence' files

British scientists using advanced brain scanning found signs of awarness in a 23-year old woman previously diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. The USA today story linked above dealt with this case with refreshing evenhandedness if not outright enthusiasm, for which I commend them.

A version in yesterday's De Moines register, which I found but couldn't seem to link to without problems, had a more pessimistic view of things: this case "complicates one of medicine's ethical minefields."

Oh, I dunno. Just how complicated is, "Wait! That patient is alive!"?

Researchers are quick to urge caution--obviously you don't want to give family members false hope. But this and other evidence that 'PVS' patients may still be there up to a point ought to make us all think long and hard before we try to justify starving somebody to death.

In the year following the death of Terri Schiavo, I observed with interest a number of other reports on similar cases that appeared in the news. A couple were widely-publicized cases of recovery or improvement, a third was evidence of a couple of male PVS patients showing brain activity when family members spoke to them. Always, the reporter writing the story dedicated a couple of sentences to jumping through hoops assuring the reader that 'this case was different from the Schiavo case,' even though they could never seem to come up with a difference worth beans to show for it.

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