They were the subjects of public disputes with family members, court systems, medical professionals, the media, and society at large. Terri Schiavo, Nancy Cruzan and Karen Ann Quinlan; their names are synonymous with permanent vegetative state (PVS). The amazing technological advancements in modern medicine has been credited with keeping persons alive who in times past would have died, therefore this is remarkable for countless families. In the cases of the Quinlan’s, the Cruzan’s and many like them, families members find it unbearable to witness loved ones who linger indefinitely in PVS with little or no chance for recovery. There are many like Terri Schiavo’s parents, who value the lives of their love ones no matter how limited their lives are. So the medical, legal and moral questions arise; should PVS patients be denied nutrition and hydration until they die? Patients living in PVS’s should be given every medical treatment available to increase their chances for recovery but rather they recover or not they are human beings and the limited life they have should be preserved and treated with dignity.
Terri Schiavo with her mother at the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida in 2005.
Permanent Vegetative State
Disorders of consciousness (DOC) refer to patients in comas, vegetative states (VS), locked-in-syndrome, and minimally conscious states. Characteristics of the vegetative state are arousal without awareness of self or environment. The persons can blink their eyes, smile, and make noises, but these functions are solely involuntary. “A “persistent vegetative state” is a vegetative state that remains one month after brain damage, which becomes a “permanent vegetative state” three months after non-traumatic brain damage or one year after traumatic injury. Only “permanent vegetative state” is meant to indicate irreversibility” (Fisher & Appelbaum, 2010, p. 374, para. 3). According to John Collins Harvey, a senior research scholar and professor emeritus of medicine at Georgetown University, feeding tubes should be removed from patients in PVS because there is no hope for recovery. Harvey explains that the cerebral cortex the area of the brain that controls conscious thought, language, and sensory perception has been irreparably damaged by a lack of oxygen (Harvey, 2004). However, recent studies on DOC have revealed the difficulty of diagnosing PVS, especially because a few PVS patients recovered consciousness and demonstrated awareness as a result of drug therapies and functional imaging studies (Fisher & Appelbaum, 2010). Obviously, these patients were not in PVS, an irreversible condition. The awakening of persons after the administration of specific medications brings attention to the possibility that VS is often over diagnosed (Sara & Pistoia, 2010). “The differential diagnosis of disorders of consciousness is challenging. The rate of misdiagnosis is approximately 40%, and new methods are required to complement bedside...