Viewpoint: ‘Hunches’ can’t be used to decide the fate of ‘covertly conscious’ patients in vegetative states

c vegetative state p nbcnews ux
[A]s many as 15% to 20% of patients who have been rigorously diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state — now often referred to as unresponsive wakefulness syndrome — are covertly conscious.

Over the last decade, several commentators have speculated that these patients might be suffering in this state, including a recent First Opinion claiming that covertly conscious patients were being subject to “a form of unwitting medical torture.”

ADVERTISEMENT

But is this the right way to think about these patients? We think not.

In general, patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome weren’t perfectly healthy one minute and prisoners in their bodies the next. These are individuals who have suffered catastrophic brain injuries and, after weeks, months, or even years of treatment and gradual recovery, emerge into a very strange place to which we on the outside have little access. We now know that some of these patients are conscious. But we really don’t know what their mental lives are like.

Related article:  Bluebird Bio defends as 'simple and human' its pricing of costly gene therapy for beta thalassemia

Our recently developed quality of life measure may shed light on these questions. The possibility that some patients may be suffering worries us. But so does the possibility of withdrawing care from someone whose life is worth living. These decisions mustn’t be made guided by hunches.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Read the original post

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
GLP Podcasts
Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

More than 2.8 million people have lost their lives due to the pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend