They’re Not Vegetables, They’re People

TSchiavo1 - Copy

(Catholic Philly) – Of all the dilemmas classified under end-of-life issues, the most divisive even for Catholics has been the treatment of people diagnosed as being in a “vegetative state.”

The phrase has been used to describe patients who are not comatose (because they have sleep-wake cycles) but seem unaware of their environment, most often due to a head injury. They may live a long time in this state if provided nursing care and nourishment; but the reigning assumption has been that after a few weeks or months in this state, they will not get better either.

In 1983, ethicist Daniel Callahan said many of his colleagues were interested in withdrawing food and fluids from these helpless but medically stable patients because “a denial of nutrition may in the long run become the only effective way to make certain that a large number of biologically tenacious patients actually die.” CONTINUE