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Commentary: The Significance of that Case of the Man Trapped in a “Coma” for 23 Years

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By Alex Schadenberg, Chairman, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

November 24, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Many people will have read the story of Rom Houben, the Belgium man who was diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for 23 years, but who in fact had a condition known as Locked-in Syndrome. A person in locked-in syndrome is fully aware of all of their surroundings and they hear and remember the conversations that take place around them, but due to their cognitive disability they are unable to respond.

The case of Rom Houben is significant given that many bioethicists are attempting to redefine the status of people in PVS as being similar to "brain death," meaning that it is being argued that these people have lost self-awareness and therefore should be treated as non-persons or dead people. Non-persons do not have the right to live and in fact many bio-ethicists suggest that these people should be treated as organ donors.

Dr. Steven Laureys, the prominent neurologist from Belgium diagnosed Houben as being in a locked-in syndrome rather than PVS based on a brain scan that indicated that Houben's brain was functioning at near to normal response.

Dr. Laureys has released a new study concerning PVS stating: "Anyone who bears the stamp of 'unconscious' just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again." He also stated that: "There may be many similar cases of false comas around the world," and "patients classed in a vegetative state are often misdiagnosed."

The concern about misdiagnosing PVS is not new. Professor Keith Andrews in the UK stated several years ago in his study that 43% of people diagnosed as PVS are misdiagnosed. This is a significant concern in the UK ever since the 1993 court decision that determined that Tony Bland could be dehydrated to death, even though he was not otherwise dying. Since that decision, many people in the UK, who were not otherwise dying, have died by dehydration because it had been determined that they were in PVS.

For instance, Terri Schiavo was dehydrated to death in 2005 based on her diagnosis of PVS and the insistence by her husband that she did not want to live in this manner.

In March 2004, I had the opportunity to be at a presentation in Rome by Dr. Laureys concerning people in a vegetative state. At that presentation Dr. Laureys showed us brain scans of people in PVS and compared them to people who were healthy. By analyzing the brain scans he was able to show us the injured parts of the brain of the PVS patients. He then compared the brain scans of people in PVS to healthy people who were sleeping. There were incredible similarities between the scans of the healthy people who were sleeping to the people who were PVS. He concluded that other than the identifiable injured areas of the brain, medical experts know less about PVS than they would like to admit.

At the same Congress I heard a presentation by an Italian physician who operated an "Awakening Centre." Awakening centers are places that focus on recovery for people who are in a coma state. This physician explained how the use of stimulation techniques have resulted in incredible successes at regaining consciousness for their patients. At a similar Congress in Rome in 2007 I listened to a Polish physician explain about his incredible success at awakening his patients who are in a coma state. How many awakening centers exist in the world? How many in North America?

As executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition I have received many phone calls from friends or family members of people who are in coma. My experience is that medical professionals are too quick to give up on people who are in a coma or cognitively disabled. Family members are often pressured into withdrawing medical treatment or pressured into removing food and fluids from the person in coma, even before they were given a reasonable opportunity for recovery.

Medical professionals need to be far more careful before diagnosing a patient as PVS. If society rejects Hippocratic medicine and accepts euthanasia, the time would come where people in PVS would be treated as non-persons, euthanized out of a concept of false compassion or used as an organ donor based on utilitarian ethics. Since approximately 40% of PVS cases are misdiagnosed, and since the PVS diagnosis is often treated like a death sentence, therefore society needs to reject the current paradigm by once again treating people in coma states as human beings deserving of care.

We must reject the dehumanizing of the PVS patient and develop new techniques to offer them new opportunities for recovery.

See related LifeSiteNews reports:

Vegetative” Patient Shows Conscious Awareness

Delaware House Approves Resolution Protecting Woman from Dehydration/Starvation

Boy in “Hopeless” Vegetative State Awakens and Steadily Improves

Woman Diagnosed as "Brain Dead" Walks and Talks after Awakening

Coma Recovery After 19 Years Poses Questions About Terri Schiavo

Jesse Ramirez, Considered a “Vegetable” Like Terri Shiavo, Now on His Way to Recovery

Permanent Vegetative State (PVS) Diagnosis Often Inaccurate More Data Shows

Brain-Injury Patients Should be Used for Medical Experiments, Suggest Bioethicists

U.S. Catholic Scholars Oppose Removal of Feeding Tubes for PVS Patients

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Lisa Bourne

‘You can’t have’ marriage equality ‘without polygamy’

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By Lisa Bourne

July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” a Montana polygamist has filed for a second marriage license, so he can be legally wed to two women at once.

"It's about marriage equality," said Nathan Collier, using homosexual advocates’ term to support marriage redefinition. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier, who has has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives with his legal wife Victoria, and his second wife Christine, said he was inspired by the dissent in the Supreme Court decision.

The minority Supreme Court justices said in Friday’s ruling it would open the door to both polygamy and religious persecution.

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Collier and his wives applied for a second marriage license earlier this week at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune said.

Collier, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for polygamy, married Victoria in 2000 and had a religious wedding ceremony with Christine in 2007. The three have seven children between them and from previous relationships.

"My second wife Christine, who I'm not legally married to, she's put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy," Collier said.

Yellowstone County officials initially denied the application before saying they would consult with the County Attorney and get him a final answer.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

Bigamy, the holding of multiple marriage licenses, is illegal all 50 states, but Collier plans to sue if his application is denied. Officials expect to have an answer for him next week.

While homosexual “marriage” supporters have long insisted legalization of same-sex unions would not lead to polygamy, pro-life and family advocates have warned all along it would be inevitable with the redefinition of marriage.

“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, after the Supreme Court ruling. “The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time.”

In a piece from the Washington Times, LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief and the co-founder of Voice of the Family John-Henry Westen stated the move toward legal polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”

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Chris Christie: Clerks must perform same-sex ‘marriages’ regardless of their religious beliefs

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By Ben Johnson

TRENTON, NJ, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Chris Christie is not known for nuance. This time, he has turned his fiery personality loose on county clerks and other officials who have religious objections to performing same-sex “marriages.”

In a tone usually reserved for busting teachers' unions, Christie told clerks who hold traditional values, “You took the job, and you took the oath.” He would offer no exemption for an individual whose conscience would not allow him to participate in a union the vast majority of the world's religions deem sinful.

“When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it,” he said.

He told a reporter that there “might” be “individual circumstances” that “merit some examination, but none that come immediately to mind for me.”

“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” the pugnacious governor said.

Since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize homosexual “marriage” last Friday, elected officials have grappled with how to safeguard the rights of those who have deeply held religious beliefs that would not allow them to participate in such a ceremony.

Christie's response differs markedly from other GOP hopefuls' responses to the Supreme Court ruling. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has specifically said that clerks should have conscience rights. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order granting such rights and ordered clerks to wait until a pending court case was fully adjudicated before any clerk issues a marriage license to a homosexual couple.

Christie gave up a legal appeal after a superior court judge struck down his state's voter-approved constitutional marriage protection amendment. New Jersey is the only state where such a low court overturned the will of the voters.

The decision to ignore conscience rights adds to the growing number of Christie's positions that give conservatives pause.

The natural locus of support for a Christie 2016 presidential run is the Republican's socially liberal donor class, for personal as well as political reasons. His wife works on Wall Street, and some of the GOP's high-dollar donors – including Paul Singer – have courted Christie for years.

However, this year Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser degree Scott Walker have eclipsed Christie as the preferred candidates of the boardroom donors – who sometimes prefer Democrats to Republicans.

Christie also used language during a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, which concerned some major GOP donors.

Christie is reportedly spending this weekend with Mitt Romney and his family at Romney's New Hampshire home. Romney declined to enter the 2016 race himself and may be able to open his donor list to Christie's struggling campaign.

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After having a girl with Down syndrome, this couple adopted two more

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By Ben Johnson

LINO LAKE, MN, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For most people, having five biological children would have been enough. In fact, for many Americans, large families are treated as a scandal or a burden.

But one family made the decision, not just to have a large family, but to give a home to some of the most vulnerable children in the world: Girls born overseas with Down syndrome.

Lee and Karen Shervheim love all seven of their children, biological or otherwise. Undeterred by having twin boys – Daniel and Andrew, 18 – they had Sam four years later.

They now have three daughters who are all 11 years old. All three have Down syndrome.

And two of them are adopted.

About the time their eight-year-old son, David, was born, Lee and Karen decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome to be a companion to their daughter, Annie.

They made the further unexpected choice to adopt a child from Eastern Europe with the help of Reece's Rainbow, which helps parents adopt children with Down syndrome.

“Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Lee told the Quad City Press. “So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.”

After originally deciding to adopt Katie, they spent six weeks in Kiev, visiting an orphanage in nearby Kharkov. While there, they decided they may have room in their heart, and their home, for another child.

When they saw a picture of Emie striking the same pose as their biological daughter in one of their photographs, they knew they would come home with two children.

Both girls were the same age as their Annie. She would not lack for companionship, as they worried.

Lee said after the Ukrainian government – finally – completed the paperwork, they returned to the United States, when the real challenges began.

“The unvarnished truth,” Lee told the Press, is that adopting the Russian-speaking special needs children “was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”

After teaching them sign language and appropriate behavior, they moved to Lino Lake, Minnesota and found a new support group in Eagle Brook Church. There they found personal assistance and spiritual solace.

Every year in the past seven years has been better and better, they say.

“I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do,” he said, “and that’s what I want to help them become.”

The family's devotion is fueled by their faith, and it informs the sense of humor Lee showed in a tweet during the 2014 midterm elections:

It takes a special person to believe in the potential of the “mentally retarded,” as they were once labeled. Today, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb will be aborted. The percentage is higher in some countries. Some have even spoken of "a world without people with Down syndrome."

Their God, and their experience, tell them that every child has infinite worth and potential, Lee told local media, and he would encourage anyone to follow his footsteps and adopt a Down syndrome child – or two.

“The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from,” Lee said. “There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”

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