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

By Alex Schadenberg, Chairman, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

November 24, 2009 ( - 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

Share this article

Featured Image
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

Pelosi asked: Is unborn baby with human heart a ‘human being’? Responds: ‘I am a devout Catholic’

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

Tell Nancy Pelosi: No, supporting abortion and gay 'marriage' is not Catholic. Sign the petition. Click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Top Democrat Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, won't say whether an unborn child with a “human heart” and a “human liver” is a human being.

Pelosi, who is the Minority Leader in the House, was asked a question about the issue by CNS News at a press conference last week. The conservative news outlet asked, "In reference to funding for Planned Parenthood: Is an unborn baby with a human heart and a human liver a human being?”

Pelosi stumbled over her answer, saying, “Why don't you take your ideological questions--I don't, I don't have—”

CNS then asked her, "If it's not a human being, what species is it?”

It was then that Pelosi got back on stride, swatting aside the question with her accustomed reference to her “devout” Catholic faith.

“No, listen, I want to say something to you,” she said. “I don't know who you are and you're welcome to be here, freedom of this press. I am a devout practicing Catholic, a mother of five children. When my baby was born, my fifth child, my oldest child was six years old. I think I know more about this subject than you, with all due respect.”

“So it's not a human being, then?” pressed CNS, to which Pelosi said, “And I do not intend to respond to your questions, which have no basis in what public policy is that we do here.”

Pelosi has long used her self-proclaimed status as a “devout” practicing Catholic to promote abortion.

In response to a reporter’s question a proposed ban on late-term abortion in 2013, Pelosi said that the issue of late-term abortion is "sacred ground" for her.

"As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this," Pelosi said. "This shouldn't have anything to do with politics."

In 2008, she was asked by then-Meet the Press host David Gregory about when life begins. Pelosi said that "as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue I have studied for a long time. And what I know is that over the centuries, the doctors of the Church have not been able to make that definition....We don't know."

The Church has always taught that unborn human life is to be protected, and that such life is created at the moment of conception.

Featured Image
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

New video: Planned Parenthood abortionist jokes about harvesting baby’s brains, getting ‘intact’ head

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

I interviewed my friend, David Daleiden, about his important work exposing Planned Parenthood's baby body parts trade on the Glenn Beck Program. David urged Congress to hold Planned Parenthood accountable and to demand the full truth. He also released never-before-seen footage showing a Planned Parenthood abortionist callously discussing how to obtain an intact brain from aborted babies.

Posted by Lila Rose on Monday, October 5, 2015


Sign the petition to defund Planned Parenthood here

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 5, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - In the newest video footage released by the Center for Medical Progress, a Planned Parenthood abortionist laughs as she discusses her hope of removing the intact "calvarium," or skull, of an unborn baby while preserving both lobes of the brain.

She also describes how she first dismembers babies up to twenty weeks gestation, including two twenty-week babies she said she aborted the week before.

Dr. Amna Dermish, an abortionist with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, told undercover investigators she had never been able to remove the calivarium (skull) of an aborted child "intact," but she hopes to.

"Maybe next time," the investigator said.

"I know, right?" Dr. Dermish replied. "Well, this'll give me something to strive for."

Dermish, who performs abortions up to the 20-week legal limit in Austin, then described the method she used to collect fetal brain and skull specimens.

"If it’s a breech presentation [in which the baby is born feet first] I will remove the extremities first - the lower extremities - and then go for the spine," she began.

She then slides the baby down the birth canal until she can snip the spinal cord.

The buyer noted that intact organs fetch higher prices from potential buyers, who seek them for experimentation.

"I always try to keep the trunk intact," she said.

"I don't routinely convert to breech, but I will if I have to," she added.

Converting a child to the breech position is the first step of the partial birth abortion procedure. The procedure has been illegal since President Bush signed legislation in 2003 making it a federal felony punishable by two years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

According to CMP lead investigator David Daleiden, who debuted the video footage during an interview with Lila Rose on The Blaze TV, Dr. Dermish was trained by Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola.

Dr. Nucatola was caught on the first CMP undercover video, discussing the side industry while eating a salad and drinking red wine during a business luncheon.

Between sips, she described an abortion process that legal experts believe is a partial birth abortion, violating federal law.

“The federal abortion ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation,” Dr. Nucatola said on the undercover footage. “So, if I say on day one that I don't intend to do this, what ultimately happens doesn't matter.”

Daleiden told Rose he hoped that Congressional investigators would continue to pressure the organization about whether the abortion technique it uses violates federal law, as well as the $60-per-specimen fee the national organization has admitted some of its affiliates receive.

Trafficking in human body parts for "valuable consideration" is also a federal felony carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

"That would be enough to construct a criminal case against Planned Parenthood," Daleiden said.

Share this article

Featured Image
Nancy Flanders


He used to be an abortionist; now, he fights to save the lives of the preborn

Nancy Flanders
By Nancy Flanders

October 5, 2015 (LiveActionNews) -- In 1976, Dr. Anthony Levatino, an OB/GYN, graduated from medical school and was, without a doubt, pro-abortion. He strongly supported abortion “rights” and believed abortion was a decision to be made between a woman and her doctor.

“A lot of people identify themselves as pro-life or pro-choice, but for so many people, it doesn’t really touch them personally; it doesn’t impact their lives in the way that I wish it would. If nothing more than in the voting booth, if nowhere else,” said Levatino in a speech for the Pro-Life Action League. “But when you’re an obstetrician / gynecologist and you say I’m pro-choice – well, that becomes rather a more personal thing because you’re the one who does the abortions and you have to make the decision of whether you’ll do that or not.”

Levatino learned how to do first and second trimester abortions. Thirty to forty years ago, second trimester abortions were done by saline injection, which was dangerous.

"For the first time in my life, after all those years, all those abortions, I really looked, I mean I really looked at that pile of goo on the side of the table that used to be somebody’s son or daughter and that’s all I could see."

At that same time, Levatino and his wife were struggling with fertility problems and were considering adoption. They knew however, how difficult it was to adopt a newborn.

“It was the first time that I had any doubts about what I was doing because I knew very well that part of the reason why it’s difficult to find children to adopt were that doctors like me were killing them in abortions,” said Levatino.

Finally, in 1978, the couple adopted their daughter, Heather. Right after the adoption, they discovered they were expecting a baby, and their son was born just 10 months later.

Levatino describes a “perfectly happy” life at this time and says that despite those first qualms about abortion, he went right back to work performing them.

In 1981, after graduating from his residency, Levatino joined an OB/GYN practice which also offered abortions as a service. Saline infusion was the most common method for second trimester abortions at the time, but it ran the risk of babies born alive. The procedures were also expensive, difficult, and required the mother to go through labor. Levatino and his partners trained themselves to perform the D&E abortion procedure, which is used today.

In his speech, he describes what it’s like to perform the now routine procedure:

You take an instrument like this called a sopher clamp and you basically – the surgery is that you literally tear a child to pieces. The suction is only for the fluid. The rest of it is literally dismembering a child piece by piece with an abortion instrument […] absolutely gut-wrenching procedure.

Over the next four years, Levatino would perform 1,200 abortions, over 100 of them D&E, second trimester abortions.

But then everything changed. On a beautiful day in June of 1984, the family was at home enjoying time with friends when Levatino heard tires squeal. The children were in the street and Heather had been hit by a car.

“She was a mess,” he explained. “And we did everything we possibly could. But she ultimately died, literally in our arms, on the way to the hospital that evening.”

After a while, Levatino had to return to work. And one day, his first D&E since the accident was on his schedule. He wasn’t really thinking about it or concerned. To him, it was going to be a routine procedure he had done many times before. Only it wasn’t.

“I started that abortion and I took that sopher clamp and I literally ripped out an arm or a leg and I just stared at it in the clamp. And I got sick,” he explained. “But you know something, when you start an abortion you can’t stop. If you don’t get all the pieces – and you literally stack them up on the side of the table […] your patient is going to come back infected, bleeding or dead. So I soldiered on and I finished that abortion.”

But by the time the abortion was complete, Levatino was beginning to feel a change of heart:

For the first time in my life, after all those years, all those abortions, I really looked, I mean I really looked at that pile of goo on the side of the table that used to be somebody’s son or daughter and that’s all I could see. I couldn’t see what a great doctor I was being. I didn’t see how I helped this woman in her crisis. I didn’t see the 600 dollars cash I had just made in 15 minutes. All I could see was somebody’s son or daughter. And after losing my daughter this was looking very, very different to me.

Levatino stopped performing second trimester abortions but continued to provide first trimester abortions for the next few months.

“Everybody puts doctors on a pedestal and we’re all supposed to be so smart but we’re no different than anybody else,” he said.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

He realized that killing a baby at 20 weeks gestation was exactly the same as killing one at nine weeks gestation or even two weeks gestation. He understood that it doesn’t matter how big or small the baby is, it’s a human life. He has not done an abortion since February 1985 and says there is no chance he will ever perform one again.

Adamant that he would never join the pro-life movement because of the media’s portrayal of pro-lifers as crazy, he was eventually invited to a pro-life potluck dinner where he met people who he realized were intelligent volunteers who spent their time defending preborn humans.

After that, Levatino began speaking out against abortion specifically with young people, graphically describing for them what an abortion really is.

Levatino has also testified before Congress, asking our government to end legal abortion.

Reprinted with permission from Live Action News

Share this article


Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook