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October 22, 2006

Experimenting with live patients

Topics: The Truth About PVS

Wesley J. Smith comments in this report on bioethicists who "would feel right at home in a world in which unconscious people are converted into mere biological machines."

Smith notes that:

...some of our most prominent bioethical and philosophical thinkers have published articles in the world's most respected medical and bioethical journals proposing that unconscious patients (those diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state) be used both as vital organ donors and the subjects of human medical experimentation.

Well known American bioethicist, Robert Veatch, wrote in the Journal of Clinical Ethics:

"For the human to exist in any legal, moral or socially significant sense, these two features [the presence of integrated mind and body] must be present."
...since those diagnosed as vegetative are thought to be unaware, according to Veatch and many of his colleagues, they are merely "respiring cadavers" who could even be buried except that it "is simply unaesthetic to bury someone while still breathing."

Reading like a science fiction novel, the British medical journal Lancet believes:

"If the legal definition of death were to be changed to include comprehensive irreversible loss of higher brain function, it would be possible to take the life of a patient (or more accurately to stop the heart, since the patient would be defined as dead) by a 'lethal' injection and then remove the organs needed for transplantation, subject to the usual criteria for consent."

Smith ends his commentary with a frightening scenario that is very close to becoming reality:

Consider the kind of scenario this advocacy contemplates: Alice, a woman in her late 20s, nearly drowns. Aggressive CPR restarts her heart but she remains unresponsive for six months. Doctors tell her husband Jack she is in a persistent vegetative state -- and although the diagnosis is difficult to make with certainty and is often wrong -- they conclude she will never awaken.
Since the law now considers a persistent vegetative state the same as being dead, the state issues a death certificate. Jack assures doctors that Alice wanted her body used for science if she ever died or became profoundly incapacitated. Accordingly, her "breathing cadaver" is transferred from a nursing home to a major organ transplant center. Soon, her kidneys are removed for transplantation into renal patients. Doctors then implant pig kidneys. Alice survives the surgery and continues to breathe on her own. She lives for years in isolation as researchers continually test for dangerous porcine viral infections. When the experiment concludes, Alice is lethally injected -- which is not considered euthanasia because she is already legally dead -- and her remains are cremated.

Source: Some experts think it's OK to use vegetative human subjects

Posted by Mary at October 22, 2006 10:36 AM


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