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Posts Tagged ‘silently progressing societal abomination’

From the Britain’s The Daily Mail comes another story of a “miraculous” recovery by a patient who was declared brain dead by the attending doctors.  Of course, organ donation has a starring role.

They were told there was no chance of their son surviving after he suffered devastating injuries in a car crash.

But Steven Thorpe’s parents refused to give up hope – despite four specialists declaring that the 17-year-old was brain dead.

Convinced they saw a ‘flicker’ of life as Steven lay in a coma, John and Janet Thorpe rejected advice to switch off his life support machine.

They begged for another opinion – and it was a decision that saved him.

A neurosurgeon found faint signs of brain activity

And of course, the link to organ donation:

‘The doctors were telling my parents that they wanted to take me off the life support. The words they used to my parents were “You need to start thinking about organ donations”.

Yes, of course the doctors wanted the family to be thinking about organ donation.  I guarantee someone of the staff at the hospital started their own thinking about organ donation within minutes of the EMT arrival of a brain injured patient.

This could be a photo of hospital organ donation administrators...or a pair of vultures.

Steven is now 21, a graduate and clerical trainee.  Despite losing use of his left arm and “extensive reconstructive surgery to his face” including having both his nose and eye socket rebuilt, Steven says he considers his survival as “a full recovery” and is very grateful that his parents were adamant to bring in another opinion.

The hospital issued a statement to The Daily Mail,

‘The injury to Steven’s brain was extremely critical and several CT scans of the head showed almost irreversible damage.

‘It is extremely rare that a patient with such extensive trauma to the brain should survive. We were delighted to see Steven recover.’

The article does not state whether the hospital told Steven’s parents, as they urged them to donate ‘dead’ Steven’s organs, that he had “almost irreversible damage.”  When a grieving family is told to start thinking about organ donation, they think their loved one is dead, not almost dead.  But time and again, stories like this show us that to an unfortunate number of medical workers, “almost dead” = “dead dead”.

Dr. Piper, the General Practitioner whose involvement saved Steven’s life notes, “I am astonished with the outcome but one worries that this may happen more often than we know.”

I’m worried too.

h/t to Lifesitenews whose own article on this story includes several references to similar recent “miraculous” recoveries.  Furthermore, they have a dozen similar articles linked at the bottom of their post.  Educate yourself and check it out.

 

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That title is actually be a bit misleading, as it may suggest that I have all the answers for the Church’s stand on organ donation.  I actually do not.  And I cannot speak on behalf of the Church.  But I do have some thoughts and suggestions that might give my faithful brethren and readers a jumping off point for further research.  And this is important because many Catholics have no idea that there is anything possibly wrong with the current state of organ donation.

But there is.

First, let me quote some pieces from a recent editorial commentary in the Wall Street Journal.  The commentary is written by Dick Teresi, author of The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers–How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death.  As he says,

Becoming an organ donor seems like a win-win situation. Some 3.3 people on the transplant waiting list will have their lives extended by your gift (3.3 is the average yield of solid organs per donor). You’re a hero, and at no real cost, apparently.

But what are you giving up when you check the donor box on your license? Your organs, of course—but much more. You’re also giving up your right to informed consent. Doctors don’t have to tell you or your relatives what they will do to your body during an organ harvest operation because you’ll be dead, with no legal rights.

You might ask yourself why you might care that you or your loved one no longer have legal rights, so Mr. Teresi explains why.  You don’t get any say in the tests used to determine your “death.”  As long time readers know, the tests for brain death are sketchy, non-uniform, individualistic and subjective.  He writes:

The exam for brain death is simple. A doctor splashes ice water in your ears (to look for shivering in the eyes), pokes your eyes with a cotton swab and checks for any gag reflex, among other rudimentary tests. It takes less time than a standard eye exam. Finally, in what’s called the apnea test, the ventilator is disconnected to see if you can breathe unassisted. If not, you are brain dead.

Hmmm, by this definition of brain death, I have personally as a lifeguard brought two people back from death.  Because that is what CPR is: breathing for individuals who aren’t breathing for themselves.  Mr. Teresi points out that even though such a person is now considered by organ harvesters as brain dead, they actually have much more in common with the living than the dead.  Their organs still function, they still heal, control their internal temperatures, etc.  And that is not all.

You might also be emitting brainwaves. Most people are surprised [note: shocked and disbelieving is more accurate] to learn that many people who are declared brain dead are never actually tested for higher-brain activity. The 1968 Harvard committee recommended that doctors use electroencephalography (EEG) to make sure the patient has flat brain waves. Today’s tests concentrate on the stalk-like brain stem, in charge of basics such as breathing, sleeping and waking. The EEG would alert doctors if the cortex, the thinking part of your brain, is still active.

But various researchers decided that this test was unnecessary, so it was eliminated from the mandatory criteria in 1971. They reasoned that, if the brain stem is dead, the higher centers of the brain are also probably dead.

[emphasis mine]

My thought here is that the harvesting team does not actually want to know if the donor is dead yet.  Nearly dead is close enough for them.

John Shea, M.D. has written for Catholic Insight:

Since 1968, vital organs, necessary for life, have been removed from patients for transplantation. Since then, this has been morally justified by the claim that the donor is “brain dead” or has suffered “cardiac death.” Brain death is defined as complete and irreversible loss of all brain function and cardiac death is declared two to five minutes after cessation of the heartbeat.

The moral problem is that the criteria used to declare that brain death or cardiac death has occurred are arbitrary, and open to continuing serious world-wide debate. They do not necessarily provide moral certainty that real death has occurred, and that such organ retrieval does not actually cause the death of the donor.

Many medical ethicists are concerned with this lack of certainty of an actual death in brain death cases.  Are you comfortable placing the end of your life decision in the hands of these medical professionals?  Is there reason to doubt their commitment to your best interests?  Actually, yes, yes there is.

Organ transplantation—from procurement of organs to transplant to the first year of postoperative care—is a $20 billion per year business. Recipients of single-organ transplants—heart, intestine, kidney, liver, single and double lung and pancreas—are charged an average $470,000, ranging from $288,000 for a kidney transplant to $1.2 million for an intestine transplant, according to consulting firm Milliman. Neither donors nor their families can be paid for organs.

Mr. Teresi does not mention the big gifts which the donor hospital receives in all this exchanging of organs.  But they do.  Providing organs is a very lucrative business for hospitals.

In his WSJ article, Mr. Teresi informs us that the current criteria on brain death were set by a Harvard Medical School committee in 1968.  In 1981, all 50 states adopted the Harvard brain death as a definition of death.  It is enlightening to read a bit from that important Harvard commission (quoting from).

Secular attempts to define death in this regard have not been all that successful.  Indeed, rather than use any sort of consistent biological or philosophical criteria, the concerns which seem to be driving definitions of death in the public sphere today are their relative expediency for procuring successful organ donation.  This trend started decades ago when the now famous Harvard brain death commission moved us toward a neurological (rather than cardio-pulmonary) criteria:

Our primary purpose is to define irreversible coma as a new criterion for death. There are two reasons why there is a need for a definition: (1) Improvements in resuscitative and supportive measures have led to increased efforts to save those who are desperately injured. Sometimes these efforts have only a partial success so that the result is an individual whose heart continues to beat but whose brain is irreversibly damaged. The burden is great on patients who suffer permanent loss of intellect, on their families, on the hospitals, and on those in need of hospital beds already occupied by these comatose patients. (2) Obsolete criteria for the definition of death can lead to controversy in obtaining organs for transplantation.

As Peter Singer, an atheist philosopher at Princeton who rejects brain death as a criterion for bodily death, notes this as a remarkable moment of honesty in bioethics:

[T]he Harvard committee does not even attempt to argue that there is a need for a new definition of death because hospitals have a lot of patients in their wards who are really dead, but are being kept attached to respirators because the law does not recognize them as dead.  Instead, with unusual frankness, the committee said that a new definition was needed because irreversibly comatose patients were a great burden, not only on themselves (why to be in an irreversible coma is a burden on the patient, the committee did not say), but also on their families, hospitals, and patients waiting for beds.           source

Catholic Moral Theology article drily states that “[t]oday we are still dealing with the incoherence of criteria for death driven by the need for organs.”  Indeed.

So where does this leave faithful Catholics, trying to live our pro-life mandate?  Pope Benedict has said

“The main criterion,” the Pope said, must be “respect for the life of the donor so that the removal of organs is allowed only in the presence of his actual death.”

The Pope is likely to have been referring to the L’Osservatore Romano article when he told the Transplant Conference, “Science, in recent years has made further progress in the determination of the death of a patient.” In the question of determination of death, the Pope cautioned, “there must not be the slightest suspicion of arbitrariness. Where certainty cannot be achieved, the principle of precaution must prevail.”

In the 1995 Encyclical Evangelium vitae (Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul commended organ donation as an unselfish gift of life, but he cautioned that the question of death must be answered by “moral certitude” in order for the gift to be morally legitimate.  The Pope said that organs may only be removed after death – “that is, from the body of someone who is certainly dead.”

“Certainly dead.”  The problem is that the medical profession which has a well-earned attitude for arrogance and expedience, is not at all interested in being certain of death.  Not all doctors, of course, but enough with plenty of individual latitude in declaring death (and then making it so) to make people of faith and intellect think twice.  And we should think twice.  I never gave this any thought, was never aware of the controversies in organ donation until this very topic affected me personally.  Until it took away someone I loved.  Since then, I have been educating myself and trying to educate others.  I’ve been collecting and sharing stories of supposedly “miraculous recoveries” by medically declared dead patients.  I have a half dozen such stories still to publish.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center states that a properly diagnosed neurological death can only be determined following an evaluation of the entire brain, including the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem in order to determine the complete cessation of all organized neurological activity. Of course, it also calls me “irresponsible” but it goes on to make my point, which is “that the neurological criteria must be rigorously and consistently applied and a judgment made of total brain death before a person is declared dead” — but that unfortunately is just not happening with consistency and assurance.

Therefore, I am going to heed and recommend Mr. Teresi’s advice.  He ends his WSJ commentary by suggesting that prospective donors not sign away their rights, and thereby retain bargaining power.  “If you leave instructions with your next of kin, they can perhaps negotiate a better deal. Instead of just the usual icewater-in-the-ears, why not ask for a blood-flow study to make sure your cortex is truly out of commission?”

To that extent, I encourage my readers to avoid signing donor authorizations that ipso facto sign away legal rights for you and your loved ones.  Require the full tests suggested by the NCBC and do not allow a determination of death if the the cerebrum and cerebellum are not also evaluated.  Determinations by brain stem activity alone are inadequate.

A living will specifying the criteria you wish used to determine your death, the manner and way in which your body both before death and after must be treated and specifying clearly that you are a Catholic who wishes to be treated in accordance with the teachings of the Church are all recommended.  (There used to be a place for Catholics to purchase and download these materials, called Legal Lifeguard but something seems wrong with the site.)

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The increasingly reliable Daily Mail‘s headline tells the tale:

Babies who are born at 23 weeks should be left to die, says NHS chief

The British daily has found the official with Britain’s National Health Service, Dr Daphne Austin being quoted in a BBC documentary saying:

‘We are doing more harm than good by resuscitating 23-weekers. I can’t think of very many interventions that have such poor outcomes.

‘For me the big issue is that we’re spending an awful lot of money on treatments that have very marginal benefit.

‘I would prefer to free up that money to spend on providing support to people who have much more lifelong chronic conditions.’

This official, we are told, advises what treatments and care should be funded in the West Midlands region.  In other words, lives depend on her authorization.  And she would “prefer to free up that money” than treating the babies.

She claimed keeping them alive is only ‘prolonging their agony’, and it would be better to invest the money in care for cancer sufferers or the disabled.

And what might be the ‘prolonged agony’ that would warrant killing these children? Why, “blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy”, of course!  What a horrible drain on society are the blind, deaf and disabled.  Do you think that Annie Sullivan thought much the same of her student, Helen Keller?  That Helen was a drain on the financial resources of her family and her country?  I doubt it.  

Why is this little throwaway article important to us Christians? Because we know intuitively that what this official is suggesting with respect to 23-week preemies is just the latest salvo in the war to drag Western society into a full-blown embrace of euthanasia for the disable, sick and marginalized. 

The Daily Mail helpfully introduces us to the horrible effects of allowing 23-weekers to remain alive. Meet Molly Griffith.

Apparently, The Daily Mail is not fooled by this doctor’s neo-rational argument.  Again surprising and delighting this Catholic blogger, the paper introduces us to Molly Griffith, who would ostensibly be the kind of child that Dr. Austin is looking to kill off.  When she was born prematurely at 23 weeks, she could fit into the palm of a hand.  She is missing a kidney, has epilepsy, and one side is weaker than the other.  But the NHS did not have the sort of cost-cutting twelve years ago, and she endured, growing into a happy, energetic and normal child.  And if the picture of Molly tells us anything, it is that “lifelong chronic conditions” do not deprive human beings of love, joy, intellect, meaning, and above all, life.  Euthanasia does.

 
Notably, the Church of England, bastion of moral relativism that it is, (again) declines to take a stand for life, morality and Christ.  Blessedly, The Daily Mail apparently will.
 
God bless The Daily Mail.

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.It’s not even “mostly dead.” 

From Seattle (via Houston) comes another story of a patient misdiagnosed as brain dead.  Unlike previous stories I’ve posted, this one has the organ harvesters as the heroes.

Karen Arbogast was a wife, mother and grandmother who volunteered as an EMT in the Tri-Cities area.On Tuesday, she was dead.

On Wednesday, she was alive.

Arbogast, 51, was involved in a three-vehicle crash early Tuesday evening at Highway 395 and Hildebrand Road in the Tri-Cities area.

The Washington State Patrol said a FedEx delivery truck struck a Toyota Camry after running a red light on Highway 395. The truck then slammed into the driver’s side of the Mercury Monterey van.

Arbogast was unconscious but breathing and taken to Kennewick General Hospital, said investigators.

“We couldn’t believe that this just happened,” said her daughter Candice Duncan, who rushed with other family to be by her mother’s side. “She’s always, always, thought of other people first.”

But relatives said doctors in Kennewick told them the crash had left her brain-dead, or at least, with no brain activity.

“[It was] sad to see Mom being in that kind of state,” said her son, Scott Magnuson.

Because Karen is registered as an organ donor, her husband, Carl, signed release forms. Doctors left her on life support so they could fly her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for the organ harvesting procedure.

“My dad took off her wedding rings and all that stuff, and we all said goodbye,” said Duncan.

“And it was hard,” said Magnuson. “I didn’t really say goodbye because I still had hope, you know. I just kind of got down next to her and kissed her forehead and said, ‘I hope you recover.'”

Little did he know his words would be prophetic. The first word from Harborview came early Wednesday morning, said Carl’s brother Perry Arbogast.

“He’s there sitting at his chair at 2:30 in the morning,” said Perry, “and the doctor calls and says … ‘we have signs of life.'”

Ten hours after the crash, Harborview had found brain activity. They were calling, asking if they could perform surgery, said Perry.

“From being to the depths of losing your wife after 31 years, and then to find hope that she’s still alive?” he said.

As shocked family members drove to Seattle from Hermiston and Umatilla, Oregon, doctors removed a blood clot from Karen’s brain and cut into her skull to relieve pressure, said relatives.

And it appears to be working. As of Thursday night, Karen Arbogast’s condition has been upgraded to serious, said a hospital spokesperson. Though unconscious, she’s even moving.

“Today, she moved her upper shoulder and she wiggled her toes on her right side and her irises are responding to light,” said Duncan. He said Karen was even able to breathe on her own for 45 minutes.

Perry said a neurologist told them it is actually not unusual for victims to have no detectable brain activity for several hours after major trauma, but he’s calling it something akin to a miracle, though she’s not out of the woods yet.

“Had they not sent her here to harvest the organs they would not have found out she was alive,” said Perry Arbogast. “I think that’s remarkable.”

Family members said doctors are still giving Karen just a 25 percent chance of regaining consciousness. But for now, Duncan said she’s not worried about her mother dying anymore.

“My mom has just always been there for me and been a pillar of strength for me,” said Candice, who said people around the country have been praying for Karen’s recovery. “Mom taught me to hold on to that and never let go.”

http://www.khou.com/news/Woman-makes-miraculous-comeback-from-brain-death-diagnosis-105533163.html

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A new video of young Lia Mills’ speech on euthanasia.  13 years old, she is more articulate and wiser than I.

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The news on this case of the poor man who lost 23 years to the misdiagnosis of ‘vegetative coma’ status just gets more fascinating.  Things I have learned:

  • His family never believed he was vegetative and his mom requested numerous follow-up tests, all of which were a ‘fail’ for Mr. Houben but an even bigger failure of  the neuro “experts”
  • He was tested no less than 5 times here in the United States by our doctors who did not catch his normally functioning brain activity (!!!)
  • What Mr. Houben suffered from was a condition known as “locked-in syndrome“.
  • Dr. Laureys works for a group called the Coma Science Group in Belgium whose mission is “to improve the medical care and understanding of disorders of consciousness following an acute insult such as coma, vegetative state, minimally conscious state or locked-in syndrome.”
  • Mr. Houben’s conscious state was found using no fancier a tool than a PET scan (!!!)
  • The rate of misdiagnosis of vegetative state has not substantially changed in the past 15 years (no improvement?–yikes!!!)
  • new comparison of methods for detecting consciousness suggests that around 40 per cent of people diagnosed as being in a vegetative state are in fact “minimally conscious(!!!)
  • Satan’s little helpers in the bioethicists field won’t go quietly on this, either. **see below
  • Catholic bioethicists like Mr. Haas are probably rather lonely in their field. (pray for them!)
  • Dying because you were denied water until you suffocated is called “being allowed to die(Somehow, I doubt PETA or SPCA would agree with this definition if the ‘beneficiary’ of one’s kindness is a dog or cat.)
  • The Associated Press continues to change their news headlines to obfuscate, hide or bury information that is inconvenient to their liberal viewpoints.  Notice that the headline says he was ‘mute’ not that he was a ‘misdiagnosed coma patient’ as foreign papers called him.

Be assured that I’ll post more as I find it.  I’m sure that Satan’s Little Helpers in the Relativist camp won’t sit still on this.

**

Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he is skeptical of Houben’s ability to communicate after seeing video of his hand being moved along the keyboard. “That’s called ‘facilitated communication,'” Caplan said. “That is ouija board stuff. It’s been discredited time and time again. When people look at it, it’s usually the person doing the pointing who’s doing the messages, not the person they claim they are helping.”

 Caplan also said the statements Houben allegedly made with the computer seem unnatural for someone with such a profound injury and an inability to communicate for decades.

UPDATE:  the doctor who finally “released” Mr. Houben, Dr. Steven Laureys was an invited member of the 2004 Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments in the Vegetative State organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Life which produced this:  The Joint Statement on the Vegetative State.  While it seems that he counseled the Academy to not overly interpret the importance of his research vis a vis end of life decisions, nevertheless, he did present his findings of the problems in diagnostic interpretation, resulting in an error rate of over 40% of the “vegetative state” (“VS”) patients. 

By the way, that Pontifical  statement is quite a remarkable and well-written document.  It says in part:

5) VS diagnosis is still clinical in nature and requires careful and prolonged observation, carried out by specialized and experienced personnel using specific assessment standardized for VS patients in an optimum-controlled environment. Medical literature, in fact, shows diagnostic errors in a substantially high proportion of cases. For this reason, when needed, all available modern technologies should be used to substantiate the diagnosis….

7) No single investigation method available today allows us to predict, in individual cases, who will recover and who will not among VS patients….

9) We acknowledge that every human being has the dignity of a human person, without any discrimination based on race, culture, religion, health conditions or socio-economic conditions. Such a dignity, based on human nature itself, is a permanent and intangible value that cannot depend on specific circumstances of life and cannot be subordinated to anyone’s judgment.

We recognize the search for the best possible quality of life for every human being as an intrinsic duty of medicine and society, but we believe that it cannot and must not be the ultimate criterion used to judge the value of a human being’s life.

We acknowledge that the dignity of every person can also be expressed in the practice of autonomous choices; however, personal autonomy can never justify decisions or actions against one’s own life or that of others:  in fact, the exercise of freedom is impossible outside of life.
10) Based on these premises, we feel the duty to state that VS patients are human persons, and as such, they need to be fully respected in their fundamental rights. The first of these rights is the right to life and to the safeguard of health. In particular, VS patients have the right to: 

– correct and thorough diagnostic evaluation, in order to avoid possible mistakes and to orient rehabilitation in the best way;
– basic care, including hydration, nutrition, warming and personal hygiene;
– prevention of possible complications and monitoring for any possible signs of recovery;
– adequate rehabilitative processes, prolonged in time, favouring the recovery and maintenance of all progress achieved;

– be treated as any other patients with reference to general assistance and affective relationships.
This requires that any decision of abandonment based on a probability judgment be discouraged, considering the insufficiency and unreliability of prognostic criteria available to date. The possible decision of withdrawing nutrition and hydration, necessarily administered to VS patients in an assisted way, is followed inevitably by the patients’ death as a direct consequence. Therefore, it has to be considered a genuine act of euthanasia by omission, which is morally unacceptable.

At the same time, we refuse any form of therapeutic obstinacy in the context of resuscitation, which can be a substantial cause of post-anoxic VS.

It also requests that the term “permanent” not be used with VS patients.

Okay, well I said I would update you as I found out things.  Fascinating.  Horrifying and fascinating.

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A Catholic bioethics expert weighs in on the case of Rom Houben, which is quickly becoming one of my all-time most read posts.  In an interview with Catholic News Agency,  John Haas, President of the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center suggests the case shows the wisdom of Catholic teaching on the duty to provide sustenance for those believed to be comatose.

Houben’s mistaken diagnosis was a “perfect example” of why artificial nutrition and hydration should be continued, Haas said.

He reported that the U.S. Catholic bishops last week passed a modified version of Directive 58 of the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic healthcare. This directive spoke of “the moral obligation to continue to provide hydration and nutrition to patients in a compromised state,” Haas said.

“This obligation extends to patients in chronic conditions (e.g. the ‘persistent vegetative state’) who can reasonably be expected to live indefinitely if given such care,” the ERD read.

“The bishops have always held to that position,” Haas explained, but some other Catholic voices have not.

In 2004, Haas noted, Pope John Paul II delivered an allocution in which he again said it is necessary to provide hydration and nutrition as long as it is “achieving its end” of nurturing the body.

Houben’s recovery, he said, would seem to be “a case where the Church’s position was actually ahead of the curve.”

Asked about Dr. Laureys’ comments about the difficulty of a patient permanently labeled as “unconscious,” Haas said he hoped health care providers would not have negative attitudes towards such patients.

However, he noted that Pope John Paul II described how “regrettable” it was that the medical term for such patients was “persistent vegetative state.”

Some doctors’ comments and medical terminologies “do tend to devalue and demean these people, which is really unfortunate.”

He said the case could help confirm the position of those who oppose physician-assisted suicide, but where the practice is legalized the patients are generally required to be conscious and responsive.

However, Houben’s case would be relevant to those with advanced medical directives who say they want artificial hydration and nutrition removed if they are unconscious and unlikely ever to wake.

The Catholic tradition holds that hydration and nutrition cannot be removed if a person will die of dehydration and starvation, Haas reiterated.

I’m not sure that CNA should have let this last statement stand.  I think what the Church is teaching goes beyond small “t” tradition–I’m not sure where JPII’s ‘allocution’ falls.  I’m sure one of you will correct me on that, if I’m wrong.  I’d also go one further than Mr. Haas to say that–as we have seen time and again (contraceptives, artificial insemination, stem cell research)–the Church is always ahead of the curve.  And over at The American Catholic blog, in an article with a  wonderfully complete title, Dave Hartline agrees with me.

Catholic bioethicist weighs in on paralyzed man thought to be unconscious for 23 years.

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