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The Euthanasia Temptation: Those Who were Thought Dead might be Alive

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:45am

Kevin Roeten has a column this week at PewSitter titled The Euthanasia Temptation: Those Who were Thought Dead might be Alive.

It’s more common than you might think: people who were thought to be dead and now are healthy. Do we dare make the judgment on who lives and who dies? . . . Sometimes people are told they will never recover from a serious injury, or their life is no longer worth living. Others are in constant pain. Still others may be thought to be in a 'comatose' or 'permanent vegetative state'. . . . Here are a just a few of the recent cases in the news about people though to be beyond hope and targets of euthanasia.

1) From June of 2007 - Jan Grzewski was a Polish railway worker who was hospitalized after an injury at work and remained in a coma; doctors found cancer in his brain and predicted he would not recover; after 19 years he spontaneously woke up and talked about memories of when he was in a coma.
2) From September of 2007 – A Venezualian named Carlos Camejo was declared dead after a highway accident, and was sent to a morgue; he woke up in excruciating pain while medical examiners started their autopsy; examiners determined something was amiss when the body started bleeding.
3) From October of 2007 - Jesse Ramirez, from Phoenix, AZ, was considered fatally injured when his SUV crashed into a pottery store; his wife made the decision to pull his feeding tube out and Jesse went 6 days without food or water; all had prepared for his aforementioned death; shortly after hospice officials reported that Jesse was indeed awake and alert; he was transferred to a rehab center and put into recovery.
4) From February of 2008 – The relatives of a 65 year old Minnesota woman named Raleane Kupferschmidt, were told by doctors she was brain dead with no brain activity, and that she would not recover; a CT scan revealed she had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage a month earlier; doctors had removed her breathing tube and were waiting for her to die; but she began sucking on an ice cube and began to mouth words; later she exclaimed "God’s not done with me yet."
5) In March of 2008 - A girl named Haleigh Poutre from Boston, MA was so brutally beaten 2 years ago by her adoptive parents she was left in a coma not expected to revive; a CAT scan revealed a subdural hematoma (blood on surface of brain); as a ward of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, Haleigh was to have all life support removed after only 6 days; the court decided to euthanize her, and shortly thereafter she began breathing on her own; her feeding tube was left in and she has recovered most of her cognitive abilities.
Roeten goes on to use these cases as examples of why neither physicians nor surrogates should make decisions that "existing life is not worth living." But this goes way too far. Whether LSMT is withdrawn with or without the consent of the patient's surrogate, the fact that these patients were not actually as bad off as they were thought to be occasions no rethinking of medical futility disputes. Death is a well-settled basis for stopping LSMT. The fact that the diagnosis is sometimes erroneously made ought not change that. Asking for 100% certainty is not only overly-demanding but also completely anomalous with the rest of medicine.

Ethicists and lawyers may someday agree that PVS is also a legitimate basis for stopping LSMT even without surrogate consent. Obviously, we must be confident of the diagnosis before applying that principle to any particular patient. But the remote possibility, however real, that the diagnosis is wrong must not undermine the principle itself.
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