Dr. Shank's This and That

Monday, June 12, 2006

Severe Disabilities and Euthanasia

Hi. Welcome to Dr. Shank's This and That blog. Let me dive right in and start with a controversial issue. I saw some amazing footage on a Discovery Health program the other day. A young college student majoring in Education became comatose as a result of meningitis. Her doctors thought she was brain dead and the physicians and family were thinking the kindest thing might be to let her die. The family allowed some researchers to perform a pet scan at the same time they showed her pictures of people she knew. Much to their surprise, her brain activity indicated she recognized the people in the pictures. Eventually, she came out of the coma. Although she still had physical limitations and had to use a communication board, her intelligence was sound. She is able to write by using a computer. Through the communication board, she shared how frustrating her life was during her hospitalization because she was knew people were addressing her physical needs, but she was not being stimulated intellectually. I immediately thought of Terry Shiavo. What if she were aware of her surroundings? What if she still felt and valued the love of her family? How can we possibly be sure? When does a person stop being human? What if she held on for 14 days because she wanted to live? What are the implications of her euthanasia for others with severe disabilities?

If you have never read Stuck in Neutral, a young adult book that is written from the viewpoint of a teenager who is a "hidden genius" (his cerebral palsy is so severe that he cannot communicate or care for himself--others think he is severely mentally retarded), I highly recommend it. I don't want to tell you too much about the book. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about this issue.