March 29, 2010
By David Gutierrez
Concern is growing that the United Kingdom’s Liverpool Care Pathway, intended to ease the comfort of patients whose death is inevitable, is being misused to railroad elderly patients onto a path toward early death.
“While we’ve been preoccupied with the moral pluses and minuses of living wills, assisted suicide and euthanasia, legalized execution of some of society’s most vulnerable has become available, most probably at a hospital near you,” writes Telegraph columnist Liz Hunt. “How did we let this happen?”
The Liverpool Care Pathway, which has been endorsed by the British government and adopted by 900 different hospitals and nursing homes across the country, allows a patient’s care staff to remove invasive or uncomfortable medications or devices from a patient they have unanimously judged to be close to death, with no hope of recovery. Controversially, this allows medical staff to deprive patients of food or water or to sedate them continuously until they die. Recently, a group of British medical experts objected that these procedures can mask signs that a patient is actually recovering.
“We’ve long accepted the practice of easing terminally ill patients towards death, by upping the dose of morphine so that pain and consciousness are blunted until respiration is suppressed completely,” Hunt writes. “Sensible people view it as the most compassionate of acts. But being ‘made comfortable’ is no longer the reassuring euphemism it once was.”
Hunt recounts a story of a friend who was awakened at 4 a.m. by a phone call from the nursing home where her grandmother is a resident. Her grandmother was experiencing trouble breathing, and the facility staff wanted to know if they should bother calling an ambulance or if they should just “make her comfortable.” When the friend instructed them to call an ambulance, they asked if she was “sure.”
In other recent cases, an 80-year-old pneumonia patient was recently put on the pathway and deprived of food and water until her daughter successfully fought for her to be removed. She recovered. A 76-year-old pneumonia patient, however, was allowed to die due to doctors’ judgment that his cancer was spreading too fast.
January 13, 2010
By E. Huff
Rom Houben, a 46-year-old car crash victim, has recently come forward with his horrific experience of coma misdiagnosis. Doctors believed that Rom was in a coma when in fact he was conscious but unable to speak or move. For 23 years, he tried continually to alert his doctors about the fact that he was actually awake but was unable to ever make a sound.
Many coma tests were performed on Rom prior to doctors deciding that he was unconscious, yet somehow they inaccurately assessed his brain function and declared him brain-dead when he was fully conscious.
Dr. Steven Laureys, the neurological expert who saved Rom, revealed the story in a scientific paper that was published recently. Thanks to advances in technology since Rom was first diagnosed as being in a perpetual vegetative state, Rom was able to eventually type information into a computer that revealed his state of consciousness.
Dr. Laureys believes there are probably many people around the world who have been diagnosed as being in a coma when they may actually be conscious. This breakthrough story, as disturbing as it is, will have serious implications in the right-to-die debate. Since many people may have been and are currently being misdiagnosed in the same way that Rom was, there is a high possibility that people will needlessly die because they are thought to be permanently unconscious.
A similar story took place in Belgium where a paralyzed man was declared to be in a coma using the Glasgow Coma Scale. Every test conducted on him proved to be false when a secondary analysis at the University of Liege showed that he was fully awake. Though he remains in a hospital, he is able to use his computer to read books, talk to friends, and interact with the world.
Dr. Laureys study also questions the way in which doctors declare someone to be unconscious. Between 3,000 and 5,000 people a year who suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are declared to be in a coma. Once placed in this category, few are ever evaluated or tested again to verify the initial results. Rarely are people who have been declared to be in an unconscious state given any further treatment to try to improve their condition; they are primarily just given life support.
The comatose who have seen miraculous improvements, including 86-year-old Carrie Coons from New York, are perfect examples of why euthanasia and assisted suicide proponents need to reconsider their position. Just days after a judge had ruled that her family could take her off life-support, Coons regained consciousness, started eating and began conversing.