Friday, February 25, 2005

Edgar Allen Poe or the American Justice System?

Here is an excerpt from an eerie article appearing on the Not Dead Yet website.

Disability activists have called for a nationwide moratorium on the dehydration and starvation of people alleged to be in "persistent vegetative state." This would apply to individuals who do not have an advance directive or durable power of attorney.

The call for a moratorium is a reaction to the newly-published report indicating high levels of brain activity in people thought to be in "minimally conscious state (MCS)." The study, published in the February issue of Neurology, discovered evidence that these individuals may hear and understand much of what is going on around them, but are unable to respond.
The study drew a distinction between MCS and Persistent Vegetative State (PVS), but the distinction is not a reliable one. In a New York Times article, Dr. Joseph Fins mentioned research indicating a 30% misdiagnosis rate of PVS, indicating that nearly a third of persons diagnosed in PVS are actually in "minimally conscious state." Fins is chief of the medical ethics division of New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

With the exception of oblique references to Terri Schiavo, current coverage of the study and its implications dance around the most important issues regarding this study. Namely, thousands of people around this country with labels of both MCS and PVS are being starved and dehydrated, often without an advance directive indicating their wishes, or a durable power of attorney appointing a substitute decision-maker they chose for themselves.

"Given the current research regarding brain activity and misdiagnosis, it's a virtual certainty that countless people have been helpless to prevent their own deaths through starvation and dehydration," says Stephen Drake, research analyst for Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group opposed to legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

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