Wednesday, March 7, 2007

What Does Christa Think? [Bob]

Today it is being reported that a Colorado woman, who suffered a heart attack and stroke in 2000, suddenly awoke after almost 7 years in a coma. Today Christa Lilly conducted an interview with CBS affiliate KKTV in Colorado Springs.

Recently British scientists also reported that another woman in a “vegetative state” shows signs of awareness by her apparent ability to respond to speech commands. When told to “imagine herself playing tennis and walking through her house ... motor-control regions of her brain lit up like they did in the healthy people to whom she was compared.” Though researchers were quick to point out that…
"This is just one patient. The result in one patient does not tell us whether any other patient will show similar results, nor whether this result will have any bearing on her"

"It raises the questions of ethics and experience of these patients, I think, to a new level," said neuroscientist Joy Hirsch of New York's Columbia University Medical Center. "It raises the tension about how we treat these patients."

But, "making medical decisions based on this information at this point in time we say is not appropriate.”
“Not appropriate?” It seems to me it is very appropriate; especially in light of the ongoing debate in both Europe and New Jersey regarding easing restrictions on brain death criteria to allow for increased organ donations.

It seems appropriate in light of the Australian issue regarding patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). There, bioethicists are debating "the potential use of patients with non-responsive brain function for such medical experiments as animal organ transplants—to bypass ethic prohibitions against using a living human being for medical experimentation, some even suggested designating such patients as "dead," saying their cognitive impairments justified treating them as cadavers."
Those in a PVS will not ever wake up, they feel no pain or discomfort and have no continuing interest in their own survival…”

While making the argument that PVS patients have no right to mental autonomy since they have no apparent functioning mental capacity, Dr. Curry excused the medical “use” of their bodies by suggesting such patients should be allowed to choose to donate their bodies for the good of science, saying, “…these patients must also have a right to risk that life for the common good.”

On this view, Christa Lilly could have been designated a "cadaver" and her body used for experimentation just minutes before she granted her interview in Colorado Springs.

Serge can shed more technical/medical light on this subject but the fact that similar stories pop up from time to time is a reminder that the value of human persons is not just in question at the beginning of life – and that it still centers on the most vulnerable in our society.

To those who would deem medical decisions surrounding these issues as being “inappropriate,” I suggest they ask Christa Lilly for her opinion on the matter.


  1. Christa had a relapse on Sunday, March 4th.

  2. Christa relapsed on Wednesday, March 7th.

  3. Yes, she relapsed, but Bob's post still stands as a powerful critique of what happens when humans are valued by the functions they perform rather than the nature they possess.


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