Tuesday, March 15, 2005

AWAKENINGS



I remember watching one of Robin Williams' better films, Awakenings, and being touched by the tender caring in that facility for the patients they believed were hopelessly incapable of sustained thought processes. In the course of that film, the Williams character finds a treatment that allows these patients, long unresponsive, to communicate with the external world. For a brief period, they regain their lives.

Unfortunately, the treatment is only effective for a short time. In the end, they relapse into their isolation.

That film received many awards. It was embraced by the Hollywood community.

What has that to do with Terri's case?

It has to do with the medical community's difficulty in judging just who is "aware", and who is not. From Right2Think
Persistent Vegetative State is not easily diagnosed. Although accepted signs of PVS include the absence of awareness of oneself or one's environment, we cannot measure thought or awareness -- only behavior and movement. Today's medical tests are not specific enough to make a certain diagnosis of PVS. As a result, the rate of misdiagnosis is high, approximately 40 percent in some studies. Physical disabilities experienced by many of these patients, such as blindness and paralysis, can stop them from exhibiting behaviors that could make their awareness known.
Funny, many have forgotten the lesson of Awakenings - that inside seemingly unresponsive patients may lie the potential for more. We cannot ignore these patients, or, even worse, declare them unworthy of continued life.

They deserve to live, whether that life is limited or inconvenient, or, in fact, whether we might, in those circumstances, opt to refuse to continue. We have to err on the side of life.

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