Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Do You Remember Terri Schiavo? Today She Might Be Able to Tell Us Her Choice to Live or Die

  Do you remember Terri Schiavo?   She was the victim of an accident, a woman in a chronic vegetative state, with no medically discerniable brain activity. From 1998 through 2005, her fate was the subject of a tragic legal battle between her husband and her parents. Her husband insisted that she had communicated to him prior to the accident that if she had no quality of life, she would want him to remove any nutrition and hydration tubes, and allow her to die. Her parents insisted that such would not have been her choice, and that indeed she had cognitive mental abilities and responded to their speech and touch. Some of her caretakers agreed.
Eventually her husband prevailed in court, her feeding tube was disconnected, and she died some two weeks later.

There were no winners in the Schiavo case, only losers. And we will never know what Ms. Schiavo's medical decision regarding her feeding tube would have been. The only lesson to be learned from her case is the importance of durable powers of attorney for healthcare decisions and clearly communicated declarations of intent regarding extraordinary medical measures-the so-called "living will."

However, astonishing medical news from Canada offers the promise of meaningful communication with at least some patients in a chronic vegetative state. British neuroscientist Dr. Adrian Owen reports that he has mean able to establish meaningful communication with Scott Routley of London, Ontario, who has been in a chronic vegetative state for over a decade and who was believed by his doctors to have no cognitive consciousness and no meaningful brain activity. Dr. Owen asked Mr. Routley whether he was feeling any pain. Using sophisticated MRI scanning, Dr. Owen was able to determine that Mr. Routley understood the question and had answered, "No." Read the entire story here at The National Post.

It is possible that Terri Schiavo was too brain-damaged to engage in the type of communication that Dr. Owen has been able to establish with Mr. Routley.  Yet, at least now there is the hope that in a similar case, we may be able to ask the patient what he or she wants to do.

2 Comments:

Anonymous CarlH said...

Amazing story that should prompt an awful lot of deep thinking about what we think we know about life and how to deal with it. Thanks for posting the link. I sort of doubt I'll be hearing about this on the evening news programs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 4:33:00 PM  
Anonymous CarlH said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 4:34:00 PM  

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