Sunday, November 22, 2009

NEVER Call Someone a Vegetable


Human beings may suffer various degrees of mental impairment, but they remain human beings. They do not become "vegetables". Ever. And it is wrong and dehumanizing, to suggest they do and to label them as such -- just like we get around the inconvenient fact of the unborn child by using the impersonal term "fetus" and we disassociate ourselves from evil human beings by referring to them as "animals". All are human beings created in the image of God, however undeveloped, marred, or damaged this image may be.


This comes too late to help Terri Schiavo who was, effectively, murdered (or something very close to it) with the support of a substantial percentage of American society.

But perhaps it may result in a little less arrogance and a bit more humility among those both in and outside the medical sciences who are quick to label other humans "vegetables". And an increased awareness of the continuing humanity of even the most severely handicapped among us.

Let's resolve to never, ever refer to someone as a vegetable.


Update May 2011:


Spelling errors corrected. h/t Canadian Cynic -- thank you.


Regarding the linked article, 
Laureys later concluded that messages attributed to Houben through Wouters' facilitation were not, in fact, coming from Houben after all.... Dr. Novella attributed Dr. Laureys's prior error to likely insufficient experience with facilitated communication.[4]  Source: Wiki.
This does not negate the thrust of this post; people never become vegetables, and it is de-humanizing to refer to them as such.

Update July 2011:

‘Brain dead’ Quebec woman wakes up after family refuses organ donation

‘Brain dead’ woman recovers after husband refuses to withdraw life support




10 comments:

Backseat Blogger said...

Actually Terry Schiavo WAS a vegetable or 'vegetative state' as they say nowadays.


Her post mortem realvealed that, in fact, the lights were on but no one was home.

hunter said...

What the husband did to Terry was disgusting.

Backseat, vegetable or not, STARVING a person to death is disgusting. Nobody should support that, no matter what condition the person is in.

RkBall said...

Hunter -- thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate it greatly.

RkBall said...

BB:

Let me try to spell this out for you, in case you misunderstood me the first time.

One. Regardless of what state Terry Schiavo was in, she did not become a vegetable. Do you get this? The language is unscientific, as is the label vegetative state. It is more like a metaphor. It is wrong. It is misleading. It is de-humanizing. It should be dropped. By everybody.

Two. The post mortem revealed "no one was home", did it? And as the article I cited clearly shows, medical science is omniscient, infallible, and never, ever, wrong, is that it?

Apparently I was wrong about one thing -- there's apparently no room for humility to check the cruel, unbridled arrogance displayed in posts such as yours.

Mac said...

I agree with your main point (ie: a human does not become a vegetable) although one could say it's a question of semantics; a lazy way of saying the person is completely unresponsive.

All evidence suggest Terry Schiavo was, for all intents and purposes, dead for 15 years but medical science kept her body in existence.

The argument in Terry Schiavo's case is an old one: the appropriateness of euthanasia. Is there ever a point when it is no longer reasonable to sustain life? Who should make that decision?

It comes down to a balance between the legal and the moral.

Legally, after the medical community has made it's assessment (flawed though it might be) the next of kin (in this case, the husband) makes the decision whether to continue to sustain life or not.

It would be hard to argue Michael Schiavo was hasty in making that choice. I cannot imagine what his life was like, spending 15 years wondering if his wife was alive or dead inside of her body. Those who rush to condemn him should take a moment to try to empathize with his situation.

Morally, those who insist all life is sacred will never accept any choice other than to continue to sustain life until death took her existence.

I use the expression "death took her existence" rather than "death by natural causes" since there was very little which was natural about Terry Schiavo's life during her last 15 years of existence.

She would not have remained alive without continuous medical intervention. Can you, in good conscience, describe Terry Schiavo's existence as life?

Morally, those who involve inflexible faith in their description of life can accept allowing nature to run it's course. Would any of you argue that Terry Schiavo's continued existence was a natural state? Nature takes care of business quickly and efficiently.

Finally, although I hope none of us ever have to deal with such a situation, consider these questions:

You find yourself completely paralyzed and all but unable to communicate. The doctors inform you that the prognosis is you will remain in this state.

Would you ask to live or die? If you were unable to ask, what answer would you want your spouse to give on your behalf?

Prior to having my children, I would have asked to die. Since I work in a relatively dangerous profession, my wife and I had those discussions and she knew my wishes.

Now I have kids, I'm not so sure. My wife and I discussed it and I felt if I had sufficient quality of life to be able to watch them grow, I would want to stay alive to do so.

When they've become adults and move onto the next phase of their lives, I might go back to my original position.

Perhaps G-d will give us the answers when we finally get together...?

RkBall said...

Mac: I'm glad you got my point and appreciate you taking the time to comment. What I invite you to do is consider the following statements you made:

"the person is completely unresponsive." You seem to acknowledge that Terry is still "there".

"there was very little which was natural about Terry Schiavo's life during her last 15 years of existence". Ditto.

"She would not have remained alive without continuous medical intervention." Ditto.

"Would any of you argue that Terry Schiavo's continued existence was a natural state?" Ditto.

"Can you, in good conscience, describe Terry Schiavo's existence as life?" Ditto.

See my point? Those who argue for vegetative state, pull the plug, are not arguing from a quality of life position, as you are, they are suggesting the person is "gone".

"Can you, in good conscience, describe Terry Schiavo's existence as life?"

Yes.

If she is existing, she is living. I am in no position to judge what kind of consciousness she may or may not have. Look at the whole area of out-of-body, near-death experiences -- the human being is simply an amazing creation.

I am not against pulling the plug when artificial means are needed to keep a person alive -- we are all going to die sometime, after all. But in her case, if I recall correctly, she simply needed sustenance to live -- her body was able to sustain her life.

This actually gets us into a whole area of material vs. immaterial, the nature of person, self-consciousness, the continuance of the person when the body (the material vessel) is dead, etc. -- too big to get into on this post.

Thanks again for taking the time to write. You made your case very well.

Mac said...

It's nice to be able to discuss the "big" questions; that's how we grow as individuals.

Can the spiritual be separated from the corporeal? At what point does the flesh become empty of life? Will a day come where doctors (or scientists) are able to answer these questions in a meaningful way? If so, should they?

RkBall said...

Can the...

I think it's pretty clear it can, under certain circumstances. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Christian conception of resurrection is not that the materially dead are somehow made materially undead; "they" go somewhere when "they" die.

There's lots of out-of-body near-death experience data available that suggests that a person is a spirit residing in a body. This is a dualist approach. Materialists reject dualism.

I think the evidence for dualism -- the mind as distinct from the body for starters -- is very strong. But most atheists are stuck with materialistic assumptions and therefore reject dualism.

The point is, we simply have no way of knowing what kind of life someone like Terry may have been having.

RkBall said...

Can the...

I think it's pretty clear it can, under certain circumstances. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Christian conception of resurrection is not that the materially dead are somehow made materially undead; "they" go somewhere when "they" die.

There's lots of out-of-body near-death experience data available that suggests that a person is a spirit residing in a body. This is a dualist approach. Materialists reject dualism.

I think the evidence for dualism -- the mind as distinct from the body for starters -- is very strong. But most atheists are stuck with materialistic assumptions and therefore reject dualism.

The point is, we simply have no way of knowing what kind of life someone like Terry may have been having.

Mac said...

Exactly. Was Terry looking down, hoping Michael would tell the doctors to desist? Was she swimming in a sea of anguish which finally ended? We'll never know...

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"