After 15 years man emerges from ‘permanent vegetative state’

At LifeSite I read a story about a man who emerged from a Permanent or Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) after 15 years.  It is a remarkable story, which merits to be more widely known.

I’ve been writing about PVS for a long time.  Back in 2004 I had written a piece for The Wanderer about Vatican sponsored conference on it back in the happier days of Pope St. John Paul II which stressed the needed for nutrition and hydration of such patients.  HERE

This is a mysterious condition and there can be misdiagnoses which even result in “passive” euthanasia.  Some people emerge from this state and they report that they were indeed aware, locked inside their bodies unable to respond even to pain stimuli.

One of the ways that PVS people were/are treated is denial of nutrition and hydration.  Here is what I wrote in 2004 about what happens to you, when you cannot respond and you are dying of dehydration.

Put yourself in their straitjacket.

What happens to you when you die from dehydration? First, think about going for a day without a single drink of water, two days, three . . . nothing. You would find something to drink, urgently crave it, set aside every other goal to get water in any way. You would suffer. Then what?

Imagine that you are unable to move or communicate according to your wishes. Maybe you are strapped down, gagged, blindfolded, isolated. The people around you decide that, since you are not communicating with them, or demonstrating that you are a “human being” because you are not revealing use of your higher functions, you should die. They stop feeding you or giving you anything to drink. Period. How long before you are mildly hungry and thirsty? Before you are really thirsty? When doctors decide to withhold nutrition and hydration from PVS people, who are cognitively disabled, they die of thirst long before they die of starvation: The cause of death is severe dehydration.

So, as you lie there, what is going on in your body? When your body’s fluid supply is severely depleted (because you are taking none in) and down by around 15%, hypovolemic shock or “physical collapse” occurs, that is, your blood supply gets lower and lower until you don’t have enough blood volume to function.

Your skin becomes pale and clammy. Your heart starts to race and your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Unless you get water soon, it will get harder and harder to reverse your condition. You soon desperately need medical care. Your blood pressure drops so low that sometimes it can’t be detected at all. Then your extremities become blotchy and mottled as your body starts to shut down the periphery, shunting an ever-decreasing volume of available blood to the core, the heart and vital organs.

If you are conscious, your thirst is agony. Your temperature rises and when it hits 107°F (41.7°C), it starts to damage your brain and other organs. Your lips and tongue crack. Your nose bleeds from the dryness of the mucous membranes. You are wracked with pain from the heaving and attempts to vomit. You can’t tell anyone how much you are suffering. Since those around you don’t see your suffering, they think you must not have any pain. This appears to be “merciful.”

This is how they purposely kill helpless people. Let dehydration happen to a football player during practice on a hot summer day and everyone goes crazy, pointing fingers and making accusations, filing lawsuits and suing everyone in sight. But this is done daily in the USA and other countries to people who are otherwise healthy, and simply need the love and care that any person with a disability needs. Lock a horse in a stall without food and water and you will go to jail.

Normal Care, Not Therapy

Keep in mind the difference between a medical treatment and withholding of nutrition and hydration. Chemotherapy attempts to stop or reverse cancer. Antibiotics treat infections. Withholding nutrition and hydration does not treat anything.

It must be underscored, however, that there are cases in which it harms a patient to give him food. In those cases, it is legitimate to withhold it so as to not impose a disproportionate burden which will cause greater suffering than benefit. This can be the case when a dying person has stomach cancer, or another condition in a terminal stage.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I have some crazy stories from my intern year in the ICU.

  2. swvirginia says:

    My wife was sent home from the hospital for hospice care; she was in the end stage of ovarian cancer. They gave her two weeks to live. My daughters and I cared for her, administered all her medicines, and tried to make her as comfortable as possible–while the cancer was literally destroying her body from the inside. She was no longer able to eat anything, but was on IV fluids and liquid supplements. She actually gained weight after she came home from the hospital.

    But after about a month, the health care people overseeing her began to badger us to stop giving her fluids, telling us that we were only prolonging her misery. We saw it a bit differently–we were prolonging her life. They would harangue my daughters while I was at work, and I finally had to forbid the health care workers, who visited every two or three days, from speaking to them.

    She lived for four months at home, determined to see my oldest daughter graduate from college, my youngest attend her first high school prom, and to celebrate Father’s Day with her husband and daughters. And she did–dying at home a few days after Father’s Day.

    It was obvious to me that the company that was in charge of the hospice care wanted her dead, and were annoyed that A) she would not die, and B) that we kept feeding her. We live in horrible times.

  3. Dan says:

    swvirginia, to your wife, Eternal Rest Grant unto her oh Lord and May the Perpetual Light shine upon her.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  4. aegsemje says:

    I am a nurse, and I can’t even tell you how many times a I have seen or heard of this happening. It is standard practice in healthcare.


  6. oldconvert says:

    I have been a nurse and can confirm Fr Z’s unsparing description. Only the other week, a judge in the UK ruled that it was no longer necessary for an application to be made to the High Court for permission to withhold nutrition for people in PVS, provided that all the family agreed; previously, PVS not being regarded as a “terminal” state (whereas withdrawal of support in the final days or hours from people with cancer, for example, is widely practised) , people in that condition were to an extent protected by the law. No longer.
    Check out also the “Liverpool Care Pathway”, which still goes on apparently, even though it has been ruled unethical.

  7. Is there anything more despicable than calling another human being a vegetable? I’d like to refer readers to ‘SERIOUS HEALTH CARE AND END OF LIFE DECISIONS’ at

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