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.