Man in 23-Year Coma was Conscious All Along

Man in 23-Year Coma was Conscious All Along

j0385807Can you imagine being completely paralyzed but completely conscious for 23 years, all the while listening to people talk about you–perhaps even about ending your life–as if you weren’t there?

From the British Daily Mail:

A man thought by doctors to be in a vegetative state for 23 years was actually conscious the whole time, it was revealed last night.

Student Rom Houben was misdiagnosed after a car crash left him totally paralysed.

He had no way of letting experts, family or friends know he could hear every word they said.

‘I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,’ said Mr Houben, now 46.

Doctors used a range of coma tests, recognised worldwide, before reluctantly concluding that his consciousness was ‘extinct’.

That is, until about three years ago when new, cutting-edge scans revealed his brain was functioning almost completely normally.

How easy it might have been, had Houben been in the care of the wrong set of people, for “authorities” to have extinguished his life.

I recall the murder of Terri Schiavo a few years ago in Florida. I can think of it in no term other than murder. Terri Schiavo was dehydrated and starved to death over the course of some 13 days by those entrusted with her care.

This woman was definitely brain damaged and would never be able to lead a normal life. Yet she displayed far more evidence of consciousness than did Mr. Houben. Terri Schiavo was able to recognize her parents, laugh, showed response to negative stimuli, could follow objects visually, and tried to talk.

Yet because her husband was eager to get on with life with his new shack-up honey, the state granted authority to murder her like some injured dog to be put down. The state was complicit in the murder of a disabled woman.

The truth is, doctors and scientists–for all their education, training and experience–don’t know everything. We routinely learn how much we have to learn in the realm of science and medicine.

A human life is utterly unique. A human life is irreplaceable. Once a human life is extinguished, it cannot be repaired, brought back or replaced. It is gone.

Therefore, we must avoid at all costs the cavelier attitude about human life and deciding–for someone else, especially–that an innocent human life isn’t worth living.

This–and many other cases like it where people have come out of seemingly insurmountable depths of injury–should be a loud warning to us: human beings are not to be treated like useless candy wrappers to be thrown away.

14 Responses to “Man in 23-Year Coma was Conscious All Along”

  1. During the whole debacle with Terri Schiavo I wasn't sure who to believe, but I always wondered… why doesn't this guy just turn her care over to her parents? I never have heard a good explanation of that.

  2. DCM, there isn't a “good” explanation, but I believe at one point he said something to the effect that Terri was his. You know… property-like.

  3. Stories such as this make the news from time to time and should be a warning to the medical profession to always error on the side of life and avoid terms like irreversible coma and brain death without having a very clear understanding of the terminology. It is no surprise that lay persons are confused when doctors and judges often misapply the terminology out of ignorance or arrogance.

    Irreversible coma is only one criteria in establishing brain death, but is never sufficient of itself. Lacking the other criteria, it is very difficult to call a coma “irreversible.” Some of those other criteria include lack of brain stem function (no spontaneous breathing and no deep reflexes) and abnormal EEG. Others are alluded to in this article including cerebral vascular studies in which the blood flow into the brain is actually visualized and when absent the brain can be said to be dead. I know of no instances of a person recovering from a brain injury in which blood flow to the brain has ceased.

    Terri Schiavo's condition failed these criteria on several levels and her death was state sanctioned murder by any objective measure.

    I make the distinction between coma and brain death because there are some people who have received organ transplants from victims who have been declared brain dead prior to the harvesting of organs. Families of these donors need to know that their loved ones were indeed irreversibly lost and had no chance of any kind of recovery.

    One argument that I've heard in opposition to organ donation is that doctors will be too eager to declare someone brain dead just to get organs for transplation. That is practically impossible simply because such designation requires several objective tests, including cerebral angiography, to prove the irreversibility of the patient's condition.

  4. The Schindler family under oath said they derived such pleasure from having her alive that they would not remove the feeding tube, even if they knew beyond a doubt that was her wish (i.e., they'd ignore a written directive)

    No judge in any U.S. jurisdiction would appoint them guardian after that testimony.

  5. ncbill, you're apparently right that no judge — at least down in the jurisdiction covering the Schiavo case — would appoint someone guardian that might refuse to remove a feeding tube from someone who had never suggested such would be her wish in the first place. Yeah… down there… it looks like to qualify to be a guardian (at least of Terri Schiavo), one must be living in adultery, have children by the new woman, want to get on with the new life, stand to inherit a large sum of money awarded for the care of ward and things such as that.

  6. I'll point out that it was the Schindler parents who actively encouraged him to go out and…*cough*…”date” other women in hopes he would relinquish guardianship.

    The only regret I ever saw the parents express was that this tactic didn't work as they expected.

    Neither of the parents would have cared if the husband had children by a dozen different women.

    And encouraging him to do so meant they couldn't use it against him later in litigation.

    Again, if you want guardianship anywhere in the U.S., don't admit under oath you'd ignore the wishes of the ward in favor of your own.

  7. I don't care what the Schindlers did or said or what they encouraged or why they encouraged whatever they encouraged. It changes nothing. The Court — not the Schindlers — determined that an adulterer, living with the new woman, having children with her, wanting to get on with his life and standing to inherit a very large sum of money, should be in charge of life and death decisions over the very person who stood in the way of it all. So, I would assume that is the qualification those particular judges look for in a guardian.

  8. PS The Schindlers never testified that they would ignore Terri's actual and documented wishes!

    Likewise, Terri Schiavo never said she would wish to die by being starved and dehydrated to death.

  9. And… since the article is about a man who was diagnosed wrong and was fully aware of everything around him — what if they were wrong about Terri Schiavo, too? What if she felt every phase and every second of the horrendous death she was forced to endure?

  10. PS The Schindlers never testified that they would ignore Terri’s actual and documented wishes!

    Likewise, Terri Schiavo never said she would wish to die by being starved and dehydrated to death.

  11. I'll point out that it was the Schindler parents who actively encouraged him to go out and…*cough*…”date” other women in hopes he would relinquish guardianship.

    The only regret I ever saw the parents express was that this tactic didn't work as they expected.

    Neither of the parents would have cared if the husband had children by a dozen different women.

    And encouraging him to do so meant they couldn't use it against him later in litigation.

    Again, if you want guardianship anywhere in the U.S., don't admit under oath you'd ignore the wishes of the ward in favor of your own.

  12. I don't care what the Schindlers did or said or what they encouraged or why they encouraged whatever they encouraged. It changes nothing. The Court — not the Schindlers — determined that an adulterer, living with the new woman, having children with her, wanting to get on with his life and standing to inherit a very large sum of money, should be in charge of life and death decisions over the very person who stood in the way of it all. So, I would assume that is the qualification those particular judges look for in a guardian.

  13. PS The Schindlers never testified that they would ignore Terri's actual and documented wishes!

    Likewise, Terri Schiavo never said she would wish to die by being starved and dehydrated to death.

  14. And… since the article is about a man who was diagnosed wrong and was fully aware of everything around him — what if they were wrong about Terri Schiavo, too? What if she felt every phase and every second of the horrendous death she was forced to endure?