‘Vegetative’ patient described the excruciating pain of being dehydrated, starved
We dehydrate to death helpless people in this country because they have a catastrophic cognitive impairment. Advocates for dehydration say it is just medical ethics, the withdrawal of the medical treatment of tube feeding. (Now, there is even a lawsuit to compel starvation by withholding spoon feeding–not a medical treatment!)
Dehydrating helpless people to death was once unthinkable. Then, in the 80s, bioethicists began advocating withdrawing tube-supplied food and fluids. And so it came to pass.
Advocates for dehydration started by claiming it should be reserved strictly for those who are unconscious. They have, of course, broadened the dehydration caste since. But recent scientific studies have now also shown that many supposedly unconscious patients aren’t unaware at all.
And now we learn some are paying attention to their surroundings! From the Cambridge University report:
A patient in a seemingly vegetative state, unable to move or speak, showed signs of attentive awareness that had not been detected before, a new study reveals. This patient was able to focus on words signalled by the experimenters as auditory targets as successfully as healthy individuals. If this ability can be developed consistently in certain patients who are vegetative, it could open the door to specialised devices in the future and enable them to interact with the outside world.
And get this:
These findings suggest that some patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state might in fact be able to direct attention to the sounds in the world around them.
If this is true of other patients, imagine the horror of hearing doctors and family discussing removing your food and water. Imagine the pain of the actual event!
Actually, we know what that is like. Kate Adamson, thought mistakenly to be unconscious after a brain stem stroke, underwent abdominal surgery with inadequate anesthesia. She was then left unfed (but hydrated via drip) during the healing process–and it was more painful than the sensation of being cut open!
I wrote about this during the Terri Schiavo fiasco. From my piece, “A Painless Death?”
In preparation for this article, I contacted Adamson for more details about the torture she experienced while being dehydrated. She told me about having been operated upon (to remove the bowel obstruction) with inadequate anesthesia when doctors believed she was unconscious:
“The agony of going without food was a constant pain that lasted not several hours like my operation did, but several days. You have to endure the physical pain and on top of that you have to endure the emotional pain. Your whole body cries out, “Feed me. I am alive and a person, don’t let me die, for God’s Sake! Somebody feed me.”
Unbelievably, she described being deprived of food and water as “far worse” than experiencing the pain of abdominal surgery. Despite having been on an on an IV saline solution, Adamson still had horrible thirst:
“I craved anything to drink. Anything. I obsessively visualized drinking from a huge bottle of orange Gatorade. And I hate orange Gatorade. I did receive lemon flavored mouth swabs to alleviate dryness but they did nothing to slack my desperate thirst.”
By the way, the take away from all this? Many will say these patients are suffering by knowing of their condition, justifying doctors to lethally inject, anesthetize and dehydrate, or kill by harvesting their organs. Indeed, some bioethicists already have.
P.S: If someone you love is thought to be unconscious, assume they can still hear you. Stories of “unconscious” people recalling all that went on around them are ubiquitous.
Reprinted with permission from Human Exceptionalism.