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5 Reasons Why Not to Pull the Plug

Rethinking a proper approach in dealing with patients in Vegetative State (PVS).
by Brother Jason Huynh, LC | Source: Catholic.net

Two weeks ago, Rom Houben made it into major headlines when he was declared “conscious” after 23 years of being filed as a PVS (persistent vegetative state). Through a sophisticated apparatus, Dr. Steven Laureys managed to identify life signals and through rehabilitation trained him to communicate by an electronic keyboard. In a world of free-press, simple logical arguments are essential to make a point. Here are my 5 reasons.

5. Because nobody likes being buried alive.
When Hailey’s Comet last orbited the earth, when Ronald Regan accused Libya of supporting terrorists acts in Rome, and when the Challenger exploded minutes after lift-off, Rom Houben was confined to a hospital bed classified with PVS. Much later, a couple of weeks ago Dr. Steven Laureys declared Rom Houben “conscious”. In an interview two weeks ago Rom said, “It was my second birth… I heard every word they said. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t.” Today Mr. Houben has a special computer with a touch screen keyboard to communicate to the world, “Now you know I’m not dead.”

For many the idea of being locked-in or buried alive seems an unimaginable torment. Edgar Allen Poe created fictional horror masterpieces that even motivated his contemporaries to put sophisticated alarm devices in their coffins.

Even though it took over two decades to alert doctors Rom was alive, he is no doubt exuberant they didn’t remove him from life support.

4. Because nobody wants to be accused with murder
Unfortunately there are cases where feeding tubes have been extracted from patients. Recent cases known world-wide have been Terri Schiavo, UK’s Tony Bland or Italy’s Eluana Englaro. During each case, a remarkable unreleasing of turbulent waters clashed between pro-life and pro-choice campaigners. There are arguments of both sides but at the end, only one wins. But now with the Houben case, the previous cases are presented as questionable and a call for re-examination may occur. Specialist Helen Gill Thwartes from Royal hospital in southwest London commented on Houben’s case, “Astonishingly, we discovered that 43% of patients assessed [by us] had [also] been wrongly diagnosed as being in a PVS, with serious implications for their care, including the removal of life support.”

3. Because they can experience happiness
A common argument used is, “they aren’t happy, in fact they feel miserable. Let’s relieve them of their pain.” Many professional carers find it hard to believe as well. If technology has helped is discover Houben’s ‘consciousness’, hopefully it can expand on what has already been discovered. Some pioneer specialists of patients in vegetative state say that on a scale from -5 to +5, when possible, patients indicate 3 to 4. Like Houben many patients suffer greatly, but we know for fact Houben is exuberant he is considered alive and is now given another chance to explore the world.

2. Because they can love
Why was Mr. Houben re-screened again with high tech machinery? Simple answer: his mom. His mother, Fina Nicolaes was convinced that her son was alive. Steven Laureys of the Coma Science group at Liège University, through a technique known as a tomography brain scan determined that Houben’s cerebrum was functioning normally. That was three years ago. With an electronic keyboard Rom’s interview with Der Spiegel is what broke headlines two weeks ago.

Without intervention of his mother, Houben might not even be with us today. Houben continued to fight his infirmity because he knew someone cared for him. He is a living testimony of a powerful force: love.

1. Because they are human persons
Our modern era presents us with magnificent tools and means to discover what was mysterious and unknown. However, “modern” brings with it modern problems. One of those problems is life, what is the human person, etc. Heated debates are a good indicator that the modern man quests for truth of man. That’s our job, defining and explaining to others what the human person is it all his assets, dignity, origin, end... It is such an important point that our God took the initiative to define it by becoming man himself. May this season of Christ’s birth enlighten us all to see our dignity with reverence. Merry Christmas!

Brother Jason Huynh, LC is a seminarian at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. He can be reached at jhuynh@legionaries.org

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