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The Vegetative State and Doctor-Assisted Suicide

The Vegetative State and Euthanasia

Much media attention has been directed at the very practical use of euthanasia or assisted suicide on patients who are in a vegetative state or irreversible coma. The truth is that a significant number of such cases actually recover. This essay is devoted to those types, some very young, who would have been killed if euthanasia/assisted suicide had been legalized.

Let’s begin our consideration with a nine-year-old named Ryan Atencio. He was taken off life-support systems, except for a feeding tube, after being in a vegetative state following a massive head injury in a December 10, 1988 car accident. “There was no brain function,” said Dr. Eustaquio Abay at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Witchita, Kansas. “Three or four times we’d seen the pulse go down to zero — no circulation at all to the brain for 30 minutes on end.” Yet, on January 19, 1989, Ryan squeezed his mother’s hand, opened his eyes, and came back to life, so to speak (Boy).

Mitchell Berman, also a 9-year-old, was comatose for 5 months due to hemalytic-uremic syndrome, and was not expected to survive. On May 31, 1991, Mitchell spoke his first words since he went into a coma December 31, 1990. “I want a hot dog,” he told his mother. Since then, his progress has been phenomenal, said Dr. Geof McPhee, director of pediatrics at New Medico Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center of the Gulf Coast in Slidell, Louisiana. “If he does have residual deficits, I don’t think it’s gonna slow this kid down”(Boys).

Yolanda Blake, a 53-year-old New Jersey woman, woke from a coma on December 15, 1990, just one day after a judge ruled that the hospital need not follow the request of the woman’s fr…

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“Author recounts nine-day coma that ‘transformed my life”, Leslie Walters, Minnesota Women’s Press, 7/16-29/ 89, p. 9.

“Boy who was ‘gone’ opens his eyes and squeezes mom’s hand”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (United Press International Report), 1/26/89, p. A3

“Boy’s complaints welcome after coma,” The (FargoMoorhead) Forum (AP Report), 6/9/91, p. A17

“Extraordinary awakening,”, 1/4/2000

“Rare procedure helps comatose woman deliver healthy baby”, The Billings (MT) Gazette (AP Report), 12/11/88, p. A4.

“State Makes Public Videotape in Right-to-Die Case”, The New York Times National, 2/5/91, P. A16

“Woman Denied Food Awakes From Coma”, Liz Townsend, National Right to Life News, 1/8/91, pp. 1 and 24.

“Woman in right-to-die case ‘is better”‘, Karen Brandon, Kansas City Star, 1/11/91.1

The Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide Movement

This essay will present in detail and with documentation the formation and growth and stated goals of the euthanasia movement in our country.

The Euthanasia Society of America was formed in 1938 with the aim of proposing legislation to allow active voluntary euthanasia. Three past presidents and one treasurer also favored involuntary, active euthanasia, according to Yale Kamisar in Euthanasia and the Right to Death. In 1967 the society’s name was changed to the Euthanasia Educational Council and it officially supported voluntary, passive euthanasia. Many of its members, however, were in favor of active euthanasia.

Dr. Joseph Fletcher, on the advisory council of the Euthanasia Educational Council, advocated in the Atlantic Monthly (April 1968) that a parent has the right to choose active, involuntary euthanasia for his child who has Down’s syndrome. The Euthanasia Educational Council held a series of conferences since 1968 with publications of the proceedings showing advocacy for not only active, voluntary euthanasia but also for active, involuntary euthanasia if society were ready to accept it.

In Attitudes Toward Euthanasia, a publication of the Third Euthanasia Conference (1970), Dr. Marvin Kohl, Ph.D., said, “In some situations, especially in certain cases of euthanasia, morality demands the killing of the innocent” (Kohl 6). And Dr. Joseph Fletcher remarked that he welcomed the fact that Judge Russell Frankel of the N.Y. Federal District Court and others had adopted this statement for public use, “We should make a study of whether suicide and other laws can be modified to enable victims of terminal illnesses to avoid the unwelcome prolongation of life with assistance and without penalty” (I…

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…vidual to be a person. Euthanasia adherents propose that we redefine “person” to exclude some classes of human beings; that human beings must pass certain tests before being declared persons who have unalienable rights, for example, “one who is capable of rationality, interaction with others, affectivity and culture making.”


Cruzan v. Harmon, 110 Supreme Ct. 2841 (1990)

Euthanasia News. Euthanasia Educational Council’s newsletter (Winter 1978)

Fletcher,Joseph, M.D. Humanhood: Essays in Biomedical Ethics N.p.:Prometheus Books, 1979

Hummel,R. Hospital Progress, June 1976

Kohl, Marvin,M.D. Attitudes Toward Euthanasia, a publication of the Third Euthanasia Conference (1970)

Means, Prof. Cyril. Dilemmas of Euthanasia, publication of the Fourth Euthanasia Conference

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179

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