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Living in a Persistent Vegetative State: Does Terri Schiavo Feel Pain?

CNN has a link to an article about whether people in persistent vegetative states feel pain:

“Patients in a persistent vegetative state like Terri Schiavo are a subgroup who suffer severe anoxic brain injury and progress to a state of wakefulness without awareness…Patients in a persistent vegetative state do not feel pain, nor do they “suffer,” says Michael De Georgia, MD, head of the neurology-neurosurgery intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation here.

Pain, as well as suffering, requires consciousness, which is lacking in a person in a persistent vegetative state, says Dr. De Georgia. “Certainly these patients don’t suffer,” he adds. “Suffering is really that whole emotional aspect of pain: fear, anxiety, panic surrounding pain. You have to have consciousness to experience these emotions. So just as a person in a persistent vegetative state can’t experience pain because of a lack of consciousness, they also don’t suffer.”

Why do people say that Terri Schiavo knows what’s going on?

“Dr. De Georgia says that a patient in a persistent vegetative state can experience arousal, meaning that the patient’s eyes may be open and the patient may laugh, cry or appear to track someone who is in the room.

And that is what can be confusing for people, especially relatives, he says. “For example, a patient in persistent vegetative state will grasp your hand. In fact if you put anything into the patient’s hand, the hand will grasp it. But this is a very primitive reaction. A newborn baby will grasp your finger, but there is no consciousness.”

3 comments to Living in a Persistent Vegetative State: Does Terri Schiavo Feel Pain?

  • The crux of the problem is that doctors differ as to whether Terri Schiavo is IN a persistent vegetative state.

  • Joshua

    From what I understood, 3 court appointed doctors pronounced the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state to Schiavo. I never read that there was a disagreement among court appointed doctors. I know that the Schindlers looked for doctors that would give an alternative diagnosis and they found one.

  • That’s right.

    But seeing as we’re beating a dead horse here, the next topic of Waterglass conversation RE: Terri Schiavo should be: who gets the body?