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• In 1985, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that all life-sustaining medical treatment can be withheld from terminally ill patients, whether incompetent or competent. In that ruling the court included feeding tubes as “medical treatment.”
• In 1985, a Virginia woman who killed her cancer-ridden husband with an ice pick was sentenced merely to two years’ probation and psychiatric treatment.
• The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 1986 to allow a woman to stop the feeding of her comatose husband.
• In 1987, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an alert, mentally competent but dying woman, suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal nerve disorder, should have been allowed to order her respirator disconnected. The woman had died a few days before her case reached the Court. The same court ruled to allow a man to remove the feeding tube from his 32-year-old wife.
* A U.S. District Court in Rhode Island ruled in 1988 that the feeding tube could be removed from a 49-year-old woman. The woman was in a coma as a result of a brain hemorrhage, and since she could not swallow, she received nourishment and liquids through a feeding tube. Her family had sued in court to compel the hospital to terminate her food and water. The medical workers who were caring for the woman were unanimous in opposing the action, but the court ordered them to remove the tubes so the woman would starve to death.
• A man severely crippled by a 1985 motorcycle accident went to court in an attempt to gain the “right” to kill himself. In 1989, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that he could kill himself by shutting off the breathing apparatus that kept him alive.
• The parents of Nancy Cruzen, a young woman who suffered severe brain damage in a 1983 car crash, spent three and a half years in court in an attempt to remove the feeding tube which was keeping her alive. Though severely disabled, Nancy was not comatose nor did she require any life-support equipment. She even smiled at funny stories and cried when visitors would leave. In spite of this, on December 14, 1990, County Circuit Court Judge Charles E. Teel, Jr., ordered Nancy’s caregivers to withhold all food and water. Twelve days later, the 33-year-old woman died of dehydration.
• On June 4, 1990, Jack Kevorkian claimed his first victim when he assisted in the administration of a lethal dosage of drugs to 54-year-old Janet Adkins. She was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and her own doctor said she had at least ten years of productive life ahead of her. She had never met or talked with Kevorkian until she arrived in Michigan two days before her death. All arrangements were made by her husband, Ron, (64) who subsequently became president of the Oregon Hemlock Society. In the year before her death, Janet Adkins and her family were counseled by a family therapist who was coordinator of the Oregon Hemlock Society. According to an aunt, “She did not want to be a burden to her husband and family” and a friend explained, “She felt it [her death] was a gift to her family, sparing them the burden of taking care of her” (“The Real Jack Kevorkian, International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, http://www.iaetf.org/fctkev.htm). Kevorkian, who went on to participate in a reported 137 assisted suicides, does not have a license to practice medicine. His Michigan license was suspended in 1991 and his California license was suspended in 1993. According to the California Attorney General’s office, Kevorkian is “fundamentally unfit to practice medicine” (California Medical Board, Complainants Brief, 12/28/93, p. 19). Kevorkian proposed a “auction market for available organs” taken from “subjects” who are “hopelessly crippled by arthritis or malformations.” Part of the money from the dead disabled person’s auctioned organs could go to relatives whose financial burdens would be eased and “their standard of living enhanced.”
• A poll of adults conducted by CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll published January 1991 found that 58% believe doctors ought to be allowed to help terminally ill patients die if the patient asks for assistance.
• On October 23, 1991, 58-year-old Marjorie Wantz became Jack Kevorkian’s second victim, dying of a lethal dose of drugs administered by Kevorkian’s “death machine.” Marjorie had no life-threatening condition. The autopsy found that she had no illness or disease. She had complained of pelvic pain, but though a number of physicians had advised her that the pain was manageable she did not follow through with their recommendations. “She had reportedly been taking extremely large doses of Halcion (a medication known to impair judgment) in the months preceding her death. She had been hospitalized for psychiatric care on a number of occasions.” Kevorkian did not even give the woman a medical examination. On the same day, Kevorkian assisted in the suicide of Sherry Miller, age 43. She had multiple sclerosis and could have lived for many years but said she felt she was “becoming a burden on people.” She had been suffering from depression which had been noted five years earlier. She did not want to take the medication that had been prescribed for depression. She testified that she no longer had any quality of life. Her death was to have been from a lethal dose of drugs but, after repeated attempts and punctures to her arm, Kevorkian couldn’t insert a needle into her veins. He left her waiting for four hours at the death site while he “went to town” to get supplies so he could rig her death by carbon monoxide poisoning (“The Real Jack Kevorkian, International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, http://www.iaetf.org/fctkev.htm).
• In November 1994, the voters of the state of Oregon passed a referendum allowing doctor-assisted suicide. The law would allow patients to request life-ending medication if a doctor determines that they have less than six months to live. The Supreme Court let the law stand.
• A forum on end-of-life issues held in New York City in November 1996 noted that the preferred means of euthanasia today is starvation. The participants observed that it is legal for patients to refuse treatment, including nutrition, and doctors may legally offer painkillers and other comfort as these patients die. Therefore, “every single piece of the recipe is legal.”
• In October 1996, Australia’s Northern Territory allowed the world’s first legally assisted suicide. Bob Dent, 66, who was suffering from cancer, was allowed to take deadly drugs under a euthanasia law passed on May 25, 1996. (Thousands of assisted suicides are performed every year in The Netherlands, but technically they are not legal. They are allowed under loopholes in the law. Doctors who follow “strict guidelines” are guaranteed immunity.)
• In a Canadian national study reported in September 1996, almost half of all doctors surveyed said the law should be changed to allow physician-assisted suicide. In the survey, 47% of doctors supported euthanasia, while 39% were opposed, and 11% were uncertain.
• In March 1996, a 62-year-old New York man was sentenced to just six months in jail (he was expected to serve only four) for killing his wife with a mixture of honey and an antidepressant. He claimed it was assisted suicide, and a note left by the wife said she drank the potion “freely and without reservations”; but prosecutors also discovered that he had kept a diary indicating he was tired of caring for his sick wife, who had multiple sclerosis, and was eager for her death.
• In February 1996 the Episcopal diocese of Newark, New Jersey, declared that suicide and assisted suicide may be morally acceptable under some circumstances, i.e., when “pain is persistent and/or progressive; when all other reasonable means of amelioration of pain and suffering have been exhausted; and when the decision to hasten death is a truly informed and voluntary choice free from external coercion.”
• According to a study released in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996, one in five intensive-care nurses have hastened the death of terminally ill patients. The study was based on responses by more than 850 nurses to an eight-page questionnaire administered by Dr. David Asch of the University of Pennsylvania.
• In early 1999, the Oregon Health Division presented its analysis of the state’s
first year under the Oregon Death with Dignity law. According to the OHD’s study, 23 patients received legal lethal drug prescriptions between 1/1/98 and 12/31/98. Of those patients, 15 actually took the deadly drugs and died, 6 died from their illnesses without taking the lethal prescription, and 2 were still living as of 1/1/99. Of the 15 patients who died from the lethal drugs, 7 were women, 8 were men, all 15 were white, 13 had cancer, 1 had congestive heart failure, and 1 had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The median age was 69. Four were referred for a psychiatric or psychological consultation. The International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force warned that this information is “skewed and incomplete.” The reason is that the law contains no penalties for doctors who do not comply with its requirements and there is no way to determine if the reporting is accurate. “The data for this study came exclusively from the death-prescribing doctors, with no corroboration from other sources. In fact, the OHD, citing privacy concerns, never even interviewed the patients’ families, friends, or caregivers regarding the circumstances and/or pressures surrounding the deaths. Nor did the OHD contact the patients’ other doctors who, for some reason, opted not to write the deadly prescription. In other words, the state is just assuming that doctors engaged in ending the lives of patients are of good will, have been totally compliant with the provisions of the PAS law, and are completely truthful and forthright in their reports to the state. But why would a doctor even bother to report a less-than-perfect death, one which might cause legal and professional problems for that doctor with the OHD, the state medical licensing board, or even the police?”
• A report published in February 1999 showed that Dutch physicians routinely ignore established euthanasia guidelines created to protect patients against abuse. “The reality is that a clear majority of cases of euthanasia, both with and without request, go unreported and unchecked. Dutch claims of effective regulation ring hollow,” explained researchers Dr. Henk Jochemsen, of Holland’s Lindeboom Institute for Medical Ethics, and Dr. John Keown, from England’s Cambridge University. Reviewing a 1996 survey of 405 Dutch doctors regarding end-of-life decisions, the researchers found that, in 1995, almost two-thirds (59%) of euthanasia cases went unreported, a clear violation of the requirement-codified into law in 1994-that all euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths be reported to authorities. Furthermore, 20% of reported euthanasia deaths were involuntary, meaning that doctors ended patients’ lives without the patients’ explicit request or consent. In 15% of these cases (where the patients were competent), the physician did not discuss euthanasia with the patient because “the doctor thought that the termination of the patient’s life was clearly in the patient’s best interests.” In 17% of the involuntary euthanasia cases, alternative care or treatment was available, meaning that euthanasia was not the “last resort” as required by the guidelines (Keown & Jochemsen, “Voluntary Euthanasia under Control? Further Empirical Evidence from the Netherlands,” Journal of Medical Ethics, February 1999).
• In March 1999, a Michigan jury found Dr. Jack Kevorkian guilty of murder for the September 1998 death of 52-year-old Thomas Youk. The man was suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Kevorkian, who video-taped the death, killed Youk by injecting him with a lethal series of drugs. The video was subsequently broadcast on the 60 Minutes television show. During the broadcast, Kevorkian challenged Michigan prosecutors to charge him, and they did, not merely for assisted suicide but for first-degree murder. At the trial it was pointed out that just before Kevorkian injected Youk with a drug that rendered him unconscious, Youk attempted to speak but was ignored by Kevorkian. Prosecutor John Skrzynski noted: “We don’t know what he said, and it’s too late now because he’s gone now, he’s asleep and he’s never getting up again. What did he say? Did he say ‘wait’? Did Dr. Kevorkian have a duty to stop and find out what he was saying?” In a media interview in November 1998, Kevorkian was asked if Youk had anything to say at the end. He just laughed and said, “I don’t know. I never understood a thing he said” (Lessenberry, “I want a showdown,” Oakland Press, Nov. 20, 1998). When the jury announced its guilty decision, Kevorkian attempted to look unruffled in the courtroom, but after he got in the car away from the camera “he exploded, screaming with anger, rage and frustration at the irrationality and cruelty and backwardness of society.” In April 1999, Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison. The 79-year-old “Dr. Death” was released conditionally in June 2007.
• In January 2005, the United States Supreme Court let stand a ruling by Pinellas [Florida] Circuit Court Judge George Greer allowing Michael Schiavo to cut off his wife Terri’s feeding tube. Terri, 41, had been dependent on the tube since suffering a heart stoppage 15 years earlier. Terri’s parents fought to stop their son-in-law from disconnecting the tube. Though Terri had brain damage, she was not dying, could breath on her own, and exhibited many signs of being aware of her environment. This was testified by her nurses and by medical experts. The courts, both state and federal, allowed Schiavo to starve his wife to death. Her feeding tube was removed on March 18, 2005, and she died on March 31.
These are only some of the cases that have gained public attention in the last few years. What should the Bible-believer think of this? Euthanasia is a complex issue and it is impossible to give one simple, blanket answer to the matter, yet there are some Bible truths that apply clearly, and in this hour of moral relativism it is crucial that we point them out.
MEDICAL SCIENCE IS NOT INFALLIBLE
Consider, first, that medical science is not infallible. Because of the marvelous advances that have been made in medicine in recent decades, it is possible to forget how little man still really knows about the human body, mind, and soul. This can easily be proven: Consider how frequently doctors disagree in their diagnosis and proposed treatment. Consider how frequently they are wrong. Consider how really limited they are--how often they fail to cure.
And isn’t it true that God often intervenes and does miracles of healing for which medical science cannot account? Though we do not believe God is healing today through sign gifts as He did in apostolic times, we do believe God heals in answer to prayer according to James chapter five. And He often performs healings that force even unsaved doctors to admit that something occurred that was beyond their knowledge and power.
Yes, medical science is fallible and finite and is often wrong, and it is crucial to remember this when considering the euthanasia issue. There have been many cases of those diagnosed as being in “irreversible” comas and of being “brain dead,” who regained consciousness and recovered their health. A vegetative state is considered persistent if it lasts more than a month, and after a year, it is labeled “permanent.” (We do not intend to imply that amazing recoveries happen most of the time. Between 10,000 to 25,000 adults and 6,000 to 10,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed each year as being in “persistent vegetative states.” Most of these do not awaken and the majority dies within six months.)
The exceptions, though, remind us of the fallibility of modern medical science.
The wife of independent Baptist Evangelist Tom Williams had “the worst case of spinal meningitis on record.” She was hospitalized in a coma, and her husband visited her every day. He prayed with her, read the Bible, and left tapes to be played when he was not with her. A friend gave her a stuffed animal to keep her company and named it “Rainbow,” the sign of God’s covenant with Noah after the flood. A year later she emerged from her coma and spoke the words, “His name is Rainbow.” The wonderful story of this recovery is recorded in Brother William’s book “Twice Given.”
In March 1980, Matthew Graff of Burbank, California, awoke after being in a “vegetative state” for 13 months after surgery for hydrocephalus, the swelling of the brain. Between August 1978 and October 1979 he had 17 brain surgeries, and by the time he awoke his fingers and feet were curled back from tendon atrophy and lack of use and his body weight had dropped from 165 pounds to 110. After extensive speech therapy and physical rehabilitation, he has recovered (“An Incredible Recovery Story,” http://members.aol.com/__121b_ywR5esSZPGcCraft3kjNKZvvawlZ/VDNRzeiBbk+YFQ=).
In May 1986, 44-year-old Jacqueline Cole of Baltimore, Maryland, awoke from a condition her doctors had diagnosed as a “persistent vegetative state.” After weeks had passed her family petitioned a court to grant permission to disconnect her life support, but the wise judge denied this, explaining, “She was not legally brain dead. I was dealing with a live person.” Six days after this judicial ruling, Jacqueline woke up. A friend had come to pay his last respects, and when he took her hand and said, “Hello,” she opened her eyes and smiled at him (Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, November 21, 1986).
On December 14, 1987, 32-year-old Don Hamilton of Minnesota came out of a coma he had been in since a hunting accident nearly two months earlier. When he had arrived seven weeks earlier at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, doctors had said that he appeared to be brain dead (“All the mysteries of life and death aren’t covered in medical books,” Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Dec. 26, 1987, p. 1A).
In 1988 the mother of Pastor Terry Coomer (Elwood Bible Baptist Church, Elwood, Indiana) suffered a heart attack and was without oxygen to her brain for more than five minutes. She immediately went into a coma and throughout that night had seizures every few minutes. Several brain specialists told the family that she would never regain consciousness and would be a vegetable for the rest of her life. Her major organs had shut down and she was on a breathing ventilator. For months she remained in that condition, with her husband stopping by the hospital each day to talk to her, when she suddenly woke up! Pastor Coomer testifies: “I was called to the hospital and she talked to me. She told me how much she loved me and how she was going to miss seeing her grandchildren grow up. She also talked about knowing she was going to die and the home that she had in heaven. She asked why this had happened to her. I told her I did not know, but I knew God loved her and had a place prepared for her. We prayed together, and I hugged her and told her how much I loved her. Ten days later she went into the presence of her Lord. I asked the Neurologist how they could make such a mistake. He told me the brain is different than any other organ [it is more difficult to predict what will happen to the brain than with other organs]. I can testify to that. I am glad we were not persuaded to go ahead and pull the plug because as I was told over and over, ‘She has no quality of life.’ I am thankful we left the decision of her life in the hands of the Lord rather than those who thought it was okay to kill.”
In March 1988, 62-year-old Earl Lanning of Michigan awoke from a coma he had been in for 10 years since suffering a brain hemorrhage (“Earl Lanning revives from ten-year coma,” Penasee Globe, Penasee, Michigan, March 23, 1988).
Another amazing case involving the recovery of one who was “brain dead” happened in December 1988. Barbara Blodgett, a 24-year-old Washington state woman who had been in a deep coma for more than five months, gave birth to a healthy baby boy and then came out of the coma and began making gradual progress toward recovery. When thirteen-weeks pregnant on June 30, 1988, Barbara was severely injured when the car she was riding in was struck by a drunk driver. Her cousin was killed in the crash and she suffered head injuries so severe that doctors proclaimed she was in a state of “cerebral death.” Yet by January 1989 she was asking questions, forming words, recognizing her family and friends, and helping in small ways to care for her newborn baby. Barbara spelled out the following message by pointing to letters on a piece of paper: “Never give up” (USA Today, Feb. 14, 1989).
On January 19, 1989, nine-year-old Ryan Atencio awoke from a coma he had been in for more than five weeks after receiving massive head injuries in an automobile accident. Dr. Eustaquio Abay of St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Witchita, Kansas, said, “There was no brain function. 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” (“boy who has ‘gone’ opens his eyes and squeezes mom’s hand,” UPI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 26, 1989, p. A3).
In April 1989, 86-year-old stroke victim Carrie Coons awoke from a four and a half month “irreversible” vegetative state and began talking and eating on her own. Just prior to this a judge had given permission for the removal of her feeding tube. Dr. Michael L. Wolff said he was at a loss to explain what had happened other than to wonder about “the existence of miracles or the resilience of the human spirit” (“Right-to-Die Order Revoked as Patient in Coma Awakes,” The New York Times, April 13, 1989).
That same month in 1989, 18-year-old Brent Doyle awoke from a two-month coma stemming from a motorcycle crash. Days after the accident his brain showed no activity and his father said, “A lot of doctors had really given up on him” (“Man wakes from coma,” Rocky Mountain News, Apr. 13, 1989).
In May 1989, 39-year-old Paul Cullinan of Toronto, Canada, began to speak after being in a coma for 17 months after being shot in the forehead at close range. Doctors had given little chance of recovery (“Shooting victim out of coma,” The Toronto Star, July 28, 1989, p. A8).
In December 1989, 24-year-old Colin Pierce of Massachusetts began to talk after seven years of only “minimal responses” stemming from brain injury he had suffered in a November 1982 automobile crash. The family had never given up hope and had kept talking to Colin (“After seven years, son can speak,” The Boston Globe, Jan. 30, 1990).
On December 15, 1990, 53-year-old Yolanda Blake of New Jersey awoke from a coma just one day after a judge ruled that the hospital need not follow the request of the woman’s friend and her sister that she be given life-support measures, including the insertion of a feeding tube. “Yolanda, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 1987, suffered severe blood loss for unknown reasons and collapsed on November 30, 1990 while vacationing. She was taken to Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, PA. Contending that Yolanda had told them not to use any ‘extraordinary measures’ to keep her alive, doctors at the medical center did not insert either a feeding tube or a urinary catheter. When her friend, Richard Harley, protested the lack of treatment, the hospital took the case to court. A Monroe County judge ruled in favor of the hospital, saying that Yolanda should be allowed to ‘die with dignity.’ When she awoke, Yolanda was asked if she wanted to live. ‘Of course I do,’ she replied. She also insisted on ‘the best possible’ care and a transfer to another hospital that would provide it” (Liz Townsend, “Woman Denied Food Awakes from Coma,” National Right to Life News, Jan. 8, 1991, pp. 1, 24).
In 1991 Pastor Frank Johnson of Midland, Texas, was called to the hospital bedside of a church member who was on life support. The family was going to “pull the plug,” and they wanted their pastor present. A few months later that man was back in church in his accustomed place in the Sunday morning service. In reporting this, the Baptist Bible Tribune, for March 1992, notes, “There is no question but that we need to discover the ethics of the plug.”
In March 1991, 26-year-old Conley Holbrook of North Carolina regained consciousness from a coma he had been in since being brutally beaten eight years earlier and identified his attackers. His pleased mother said: “I was astonished. I never gave up on him. This is just a miracle. It’s good to have him home talking” (“Beaten man beats coma, fingers pair of suspects,” AP Report, March 6, 1991).
On May 31, 1991, nine-year-old Mitchell Berman awake from a coma he had been in for five months “due to hemalytic-uremic syndrome.” His first words to his mother were, “I want a hot dog.” Dr. Geof McPhee, director of pediatrics at New Medico Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center, Slidell, Louisiana, said he was progressing phenomenally (“Boy's complaints welcome after coma,” The Forum, Fargo-Moorhead, AP, June 9, 1991, p. A17).
In December 1992, Brian Cressler began coming out of a deep coma he had been in for 18 months since an automobile accident that occurred a few weeks after his high school graduation. During that time he couldn’t move or talk and his eyes were set in a blank stare. By June 1992, Brian delighted his mother by speaking his first word in two years, “Mom.” Though he has memory problems and seizures and remains severely handicapped, he is able to move around in a wheelchair and do many things, including swimming laps in a pool.
On October 27, 1995, Ryan Nguyen enjoyed his first birthday in his home in Vancouver, Washington (across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon). His complicated birth in Spokane, Washington, led doctors there to believe he had no chance of survival. Ryan was born eight weeks prematurely and suffered kidney damage, a bowel obstruction and possible brain damage. Doctors at Sacred Heart Medical Center described his condition as “universally fatal.” His parents went to court to force the hospital to continue life-support and found a doctor in Portland willing to treat Ryan. After four months in the hospital, Ryan was allowed to go home (The Seattle Times, Fri., Oct. 27, 1995, p. B2).
The January 3, 1996, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine contained the story of an 18-year-old woman who suffered severe head injuries in a car accident in 1987. She remained in a coma, unresponsive, for 15 months, diagnosed as in a permanent vegetative state. At that point gradually she began to respond to questions by moving her leg or closing her eyes. Eventually she could speak short phrases. Five years and two months after the injury, she went home, though she remains wheelchair bound and dependent on others for her care (New York Times, Jan. 4, 1996, p. A7).
In February 1996, a former Tennessee police officer, Gary French Dockery, who had been speechless for seven and a half years after being shot in the head in the line of duty, began talking with his relatives, recalling events from past years and remembering the names of his friends and horses. Commenting about Dockery’s recovery, Dr. Cornelius Mance, a neurologist at North Park Hospital in Chattanooga, said, “The first rule is divine intervention. The second is that your brain is a massive computer and it works to try to repair itself” (David Sisler, “Coma,” Augusta Chronicle, March 2, 1996). In Dockery’s case, his speech was God’s answer to his family’s prayers. His sons Shane and Colt had prayed that before their father died they could hear him say he loved them one more time. At one point after he began talking with his family, Gary was asked by his eldest son Shane if he wanted to go home. When he said, “Nope,” Shane asked him where he wanted to go then, and he replied, “Heaven.” Gary Dockery died April 15, 1997, of a blood clot.
In March 1996, a former businessman who had been in a “persistent vegetative state” for seven years, began communicating with hospital staff. He had suffered brain damage after the oxygen supply to his brain was accidentally cut off during routine surgery. Being confident that the man’s condition would never improve, the British health authority had considered petitioning the High Court to withhold food and fluids, but they dropped the plan when his wife fought for his life (The Guardian, Mar. 16, 1996).
In June 1999, Maria Lopez awoke from an “irreversible” coma she had been in for roughly six weeks after a blood vessel burst in her brain. Six days later she gave birth to healthy twin girls (“Woman awakens from coma, gives birth to twins,” Associated Press, July 8, 1999). Neurosurgeon John Frazee told CNN that he had believed the chance of Maria recovering “was almost zero.”
In October 1999, 16-year-old Jonathan Wamback of Newmarket, Ontario, awoke from a coma he had been in since receiving a severe beating by a teenage gang some three months earlier. Repeatedly kicked in the head with steel-toe boots, Jonathan’s skull was shattered and he almost died three times on the way to surgery. Altogether he spent 11 months in the hospital. Though permanently injured, Wamback has made a remarkable recovery and is planning to go to college.
On Christmas Eve, 1999, 42-year-old Patricia “Happi” White Bull of Albuquerque, New Mexico, mother of four, awoke from a 16-year coma and began talking to her family (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 5, 2000). Due to a blood clot which caused her to suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen, she had slipped into the coma in 1983 while delivering her fourth child, and for 16 years she was kept in a nursing home, unresponsive, unable to speak, swallow, or move. Since coming out of the comma she “has been speaking her children’s names, catching up on family developments and spending a lot of time just watching her children and smiling.” As of Christmas 2000, Patricia continued to make progress.
In August 2002, Peter Sana of Hawaii regained consciousness from a coma he had been in for almost seven and a half years after contracting meningitis, inflammation of the membrane enclosing the brain and spinal cord (“Family’s devotion helps Pearl City coma victim,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Sept. 8, 2002). He spent most of those years in a nursing home, unresponsive to all contact. The nursing home staff believes the daily visits by his father (during which he massaged Peter’s arms and legs) and regular visits by other family members played a large role in Peter’s recovery.
In April 2002 M. Eckard of Washington was taken to the hospital with pneumonia. She was 82 years old and had emphysema. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and she was in an unresponsive, semi-conscious state. The oldest daughter told the nursing staff it would be her wish to die; that she didn’t want any “heroic measures.” (Please tell me how food and water and oxygen can be described as “heroic measures.”) So they put her in a room with no treatment, no oxygen, food, water, or medicine, expecting her to die. After laying there in a semi-conscious state for some days she rallied, to everybody’s amazement. When she recovered, she was upset that they had withheld medical care, because it was definitely not her will to die. She is still alive today (March 25, 2005). A year after this incident, at the age of 83, she wrote and published a biography.
In June 2003, Terry Wallis of Mountain View, Arkansas, awoke after 19 years in a coma and starting speaking, “to the surprise of doctors” (Fox News, July 9, 2003). Terry was 39 years old when a 1984 auto accident left him a quadriplegic and in a near vegetative state. When he began speaking on June 12, 2003, his first word was “Mom” and the second was “Pepsi,” and now he is talking “almost nonstop.” He still remembers his grandmother’s phone number, even though she has been dead for several years and the other family members had forgotten it. His 19-year-old daughter, Amber, was born shortly before the accident and this is the first time he has been able to speak to her.
In February 2005, Sara Scantlin of Kansas awoke from the “persistent vegetative state” she had been in since a drunk driver hit her in 1984 when she was only 18 years old (“Woman Wakes from Coma,” KWCH TV, Wichita, Kansas, Feb. 9, 2005). Sara’s parents were shocked when she began talking after more than 20 years of silence. Here is the report: “Since 22 September 1984, Sara Scantlin had never uttered a word, her brain so badly damaged in the accident that experts said she would spend the rest of her life in her own silent world. A week ago, her mother Betsy took a telephone call from a nurse at the care home where Sarah lives, telling her to sit down because she had a surprise for her. Then a different voice came on the line. ‘Hi Mom,’ it said. ‘I said, “Sarah, is that you?”’ And she said, ‘Yeah,’ recalled Mrs. Scantlin, of Hutchinson, Kansas. ... Sarah’s father Jim, 66, overhearing his wife’s end of the conversation, sat in his chair puzzled. ‘Then I realised, “She’s not talking about Sarah, she’s talking to Sarah,”’ he said, describing his daughter’s recovery as ‘a miracle of the human spirit.’ Since then, Sarah’s family has put her once-void memory to numerous tests. They have listened in astonishment as she reels off the names of relatives, former pets, friends from school and dates such as her own birthday -- though when her brother asked her how old she is, she guessed her age as 22. He had to inform her that she is now 38. ... Her doctor, Bradley Scheel, says critical pathways in Sarah’s brain, believed to have been damaged beyond repair, have regenerated and kicked back into life. ‘It’s just been really amazing. We’ve all been very thrilled,’ he said” (Jacqui Goddard, “‘Hi Mom’ signals patient’s return from 20 years in world of silence,” The Scotsman, Feb. 14, 2005). An interview with Scantlin by Tracy Smith was broadcast on “The Early Show” in New York on August 4 and 5, 2005. A very important part of this case is the fact that throughout her 20-year coma, Sarah could see, hear, and understand what was going on around her (“Woman Details Her 20-Year Coma,” CBS News, Aug. 4, 2005).
A study published in the journal Neurology in February 2005 concluded that thousands of brain-damaged people who are considered vegetative might in fact hear and register what is going on around them but be unable to respond (“Signs of Awareness Seen in Brain-Injured Patients,” New York Times, Feb. 8, 2005). The study, conducted by a team of neuroscientists from New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., used brain-imaging technology to study the brain activity of two men with significant brain injuries and who were determined to be only minimally conscious. Researchers found that the brain activity of these men was similar to that of seven healthy people. Dr. Joseph Fins, chief of the medical ethics division of New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center, said, “This study gave me goose bumps, because it shows this possibility of this profound isolation, that these people are there, that they’ve been there all along, even though we’ve been treating them as if they’re not.”
On April 2, 2005, Donald Herbert of Orchard Park, New York, suddenly began speaking to his family members and friends more than nine years after the former firefighter was seriously injured when a roof feel on him. He was comatose for two and a half months after the accident and has been hospitalized in a special care nursing home ever since, blind and incommunicative. The hospital staff was amazed at the turn of events. Firefighter Anthony Liberatore told WIVB-TV, “He stayed up 'til early morning talking with his boys and catching up on what they’ve been doing over the last several years.” Herbert was moved to a healthcare facility in Chicago for further treatment, and in early June he was still communicative (“Brain Injured Firefighter Moved to Chicago,” AP, June 3, 2005).
In May 2005, Tracy Gaskill of Winfield, Kansas, began to speak more than two and a half years after an automobile accident (on Sept. 3, 2002) that left her severely brain damaged and unable to talk or even swallow. Now she is learning again how to drink because she can swallow. Her doctor, David Schmeidler, said: “It’s amazing, isn’t it? I have never seen this happen in my career. I’ve read about it happening, the severely brain damaged recovering suddenly, but never seen it -- until now. She is actually able to speak and to speak coherently. In light of all this stuff on Terri Schiavo ... it makes you pause and think. For three years or so, (Tracy) was fed through a tube, then she swallowed a little bit and now she speaks” (“Schiavo-like woman speaks after 2½ years,” WorldNetDaily, May 13, 2005). “The Gaskill family and many others in the Cowley County community prayed for Tracy regularly since the accident, and she had daily visits.”
In May 2007 Jan Grzebski awoke from a 19-year coma to be astonished that the Communist party is no longer in power and food no longer rationed. He told Polish television TVN24, “Now I see people on the streets with mobile phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin” (“Pole Wakes up from 19-year Coma,” BBC News, June 2, 2007). Grzebski went into a coma in 1988 after being hit by a train, and doctors gave him only two or three years to live after finding cancer in his brain; but his wife cared for him year after year, turning him over frequently so he would not get bed sores. He credits his wife with saving him, and she said, “I cried a lot, and I prayed a lot.” He said he is amazed that people never stop complaining today even though they have everything, because in the Poland he knew before his accident “there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed, and huge petrol queues were everywhere.” After regaining his speech, he told his relatives that he has memories of family gatherings even though he was supposedly comatose at the time.
According to a report published on June 20, 2007, on News-Medical.Net, research teams from Belgium found that 40 percent of patients they studied were misdiagnosed as in a “vegetative state,” when they should have been diagnosed as in a minimally conscious state, and that 25 percent of patients diagnosed in an “acute vegetative state” when they enter a hospital had a good chance to regain a considerable percentage of their faculties and as many as half would reacquire “some level of consciousness.” Further, a comparison with past studies demonstrated that the incidence of misdiagnosis has not fallen in the last 15 years (“Vegetative State Diagnoses Often Wrong, Study Shows,” Baptist Press, June 26, 2007).
On June 27, 2007, one month after the car crash that resulted in a broken neck and major head trauma, Jesse Ramirez came out of a “Persistent Vegetative State” (PSV) and can now “hug and kiss, nod his head, answer yes and no questions, give a thumbs-up sign and sit in a chair” (“Jesse Ramirez, Considered a ‘Vegetable’ Like Terri Shiavo, Now on His Way to Recovery,” LifeSiteNews.com, June 28, 2007). Ramirez and his wife were quarreling at the time of the accident and were having serious marital problems, and she wanted to have his feeding tube removed on June 8, only 10 days later, but his family went to bat for him and with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund successfully challenged her decision. Bioethics expert Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, said in his blog: “As we have discussed here previously, PVS is often misdiagnosed. More importantly, it can’t be done accurately after only a few weeks post trauma. So, why the rush in this case to write the man off? This much is sure: But for parents willing to fight for his life, Ramirez would be dead today rather than entering the rehabilitation unit.”
In March 2008 it was reported that Haleigh Poutre, a 14-year-old girl who was pronounced irreversibly brain damaged after a severe beating in 2005, was well enough to testify against her attacker (“Once in Coma, Girl May Testify against Alleged Attacker,” ABC News, Mar. 5, 2008). The girl, then 11, was brought to the hospital in September 2005 by her stepfather in a comatose condition and covered in bruises. After the Massachusetts Department of Social Services was given custody they sought to remove her from life support. At a court hearing, a doctor at the Baystate Medical Center said, “Short of developing a technique for a complete brain transplant, there is no hope that medical treatment will be discovered in the foreseeable future which could reverse.” Just days before doctors removed her ventilator she began breathing on her own and showing other signs of brain activity. She can now communicate and remembers the attack.
In May 2008, Val Thomas awoke after being pronounced dead. After multiple heart attacks she had no brain waves for 17 hours. A respiratory machine kept her breathing and rigor mortis had set in. Her son, Jim, said, “Her skin had already started to harden and her fingers curled,” and Dr. Kevin Eggleston added, “She had no neurological function” (“Woman Wakes up after Family Says Goodbye, Tubes Pulled,” NewsNet5, May 22, 2008, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24777532). Doctors removed all tubes, but she was kept on the ventilator while the organ donor issue was discussed. Ten minutes later she woke up and started talking. Mrs. Thomas said, “I know God has something in store for me, another purpose.” A specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in West Virginia said she has no blockage and will be fine.
Other illustrations could be given, but these are sufficient to prove our point: Medical science is fallible and finite and is often wrong, and it is crucial to remember this when considering the euthanasia issue. This is not to say the medical world is never right. We praise the Lord for the countless blessings that have come to unworthy mankind through the knowledge God has given to modern doctors, but we must be careful not to put them upon an infallible pedestal.
MAN HAS AN ETERNAL SOUL
Consider, secondly, that man has an eternal soul. Man’s existence does not end at death. The Bible is plain in its teaching that man has a soul which lives beyond death. Consider these Scriptures:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” 2 Timothy 4:6
“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Cor. 5:6-8
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Lk. 16:22-23
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” Ecc. 12:7
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10
All of these Scriptures teach that man’s soul lives beyond the grave. Knowledge of this is crucial to the euthanasia debate. According to the Bible, men are born into this world in a fallen, sinful condition. Adam and Eve sinned against God, and their children inherited their rebel nature. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The Bible divides men into two classes: saved and lost. “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 Jn. 5:19).
This is not a popular truth, but it is what the Bible teaches. Those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord are saved from eternal judgment and are born again into God’s family and will live forever with Him in Glory. Those who do not trust Christ will die in their sins and will be judged eternally for their rebellion against God, their crimes against His Holy Law, and their rejection of God’s Son.
All men are sinners, but there are saved sinners and there are lost sinners, depending upon what they do with Jesus Christ and the Gospel of his grace. And the Bible teaches that only in this life do men have the opportunity to trust the blood of Christ and be saved. After death there is no opportunity. Jesus taught that a great gulf is fixed between hell and heaven and no one can pass from one place to the other (Luke 16:26).
Eternal destiny is set at death.
What does this have to do with euthanasia? Very much. It would be foolish to take one’s own life or that of a loved one as long as there is a possibility that one’s eternal salvation is not settled. Is it possible, as long as euthanasia is rejected, that one’s eternal destiny might be changed. In light of the seriousness of life and salvation, it is an awful responsibility to decide that a loved one’s life will be prematurely snuffed out and his opportunity for salvation forever erased.
But what about those who are saved? There is also the reality of the Judgment Seat of Christ for the believer. For the Christian, this life is a tremendous opportunity to serve the Lord and to gain eternal rewards for faithfulness to Christ. If we are obedient, God has promised to reward us; if we are carnal and disobedient, we will suffer loss of reward and position (1 Cor. 3:11-15; Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; Col. 3:23-25; Rev. 2:26-28; 3:21).
This means it is important to give every opportunity to the Christian to be right with God before he leaves this life. God sometimes uses severe trials, such as sickness and accidents, to chastise and correct His children (Heb. 12:5-9; 1 Cor. 5:3-5; 11:29-30; 1 Tim. 1:20). Thus, it is possible that the Christian in such trouble is being so dealt with by God, and we should keep this in mind when making euthanasia decisions. Is it still possible that the loved one, though in an apparent coma, could be doing business with God about things that need to be settled before leaving this life? Such questions need to be faced. My great grandfather on my mother’s side killed seven men and on his deathbed his relatives overheard him talking to God about these murders and repenting.
We are not saying that there is never a time to stop extreme life saving measures and to allow a soul to depart. We are saying that such a thing is a terribly serious decision and should always be made in light of the truths of the Word of God, and not only in light of the physical suffering of the individual, or of financial considerations, or of some other temporal issue.
IT MIGHT BE POSSIBLE FOR A PERSON IN A COMA TO BE SAVED
Consider, thirdly, that it might be possible for a lost person in a coma to be saved or for a Christian in a coma to do business with God. We cannot be dogmatic here, and we don’t intend to be. At the same time, we do want to bring attention to some instances which point to the possibility of such a thing.
We have already mentioned this possibility, but we believe we should consider it separately. Those who deal closely with people in comas often come to the conclusion that their patients respond to certain stimuli and have some kind of awareness or consciousness, though medically they might even be “brain dead.”
Dr. Mihai Dimancescu, chairman of the board of the Coma Recovery Association, describes the case of a 23-year-old woman named Judy who was in a coma for three months. Every day a professor making daily rounds with his medical students would stop by her bed and say, “Judy is in a coma; she’ll never wake up.” Yet she did wake up and she told Dr. Dimancescu that she “always remembered that darn professor refusing to stop by her bed, saying that she would not wake up!” (Liz Townsend, “Recovery from Coma Is a Reality for Many Patients,” http://www.nrlc.org/news/2001/NRL10/coma.html).
Consider Nancy Cruzan, who in 1983 was in a car accident and suffered brain damage. For seven years she was in a coma, her body rigid, her hands and feet constricted and bent into claw shapes. She was able to breathe on her own, but she had a feeding tube. Her parents battled in court for over three years to remove her feeding tube so she would die, finally winning this “right” in December 1990. Nancy died December 27th, 12 days after the feeding tube was removed.
Was Nancy aware of anything? Is it possible that she could have gotten saved, if she was not before her accident? Is it possible that she could have been fulfilling some purpose of God, if she was a Christian? We believe it is possible. We just don’t know enough about all of this. Her father was never sure that he had made the right decision, and in fact, in August 1996, he committed suicide by hanging.
Doctors who supported the parents in the court battle said she was incapable of reacting or relating to her environment and could experience no thoughts or emotions. But nurses at the rehabilitation center where she lived disputed the doctors. They said she responded by turning toward those who spoke to her, that sometimes she smiled at jokes and had on occasion cried when visitors left. The Cruzan family doctor had persistently opposed the removal of her feeding tube, and only changed his position at the last moment.
Is it possible that the nurses were right? Of course it is. Medical science doesn’t know enough to say with 100% accuracy what Nancy Cruzan was experiencing. They have been wrong in many such cases, as we have seen.
An interesting thing happened to my wife while she was working in an intensive care unit (ICU) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A teenage patient was brought in during the night in a deep coma with severe injuries. He was unconscious, but my wife spoke to him and witnessed to him anyway, and prayed for the young man. Several days later he was moved from intensive care to another part of the hospital, and she did not see him again until some weeks later. When she next saw him, he came up to the ICU to attend a going away party which the nurses were giving my wife, as she was leaving soon to live and work in South Asia. He recognized her by her voice, and testified that he remembered her voice from the night that she had stood by his bedside and witnessed to him when he was in a catatonic state!
Consider again the woman who gave birth to a healthy baby boy while in a deep coma and after having been declared brain dead by doctors. After she awoke from the coma, her husband said this: “I think that the whole time she has been injured she’s been aware, she’s just had no way of relating that back to us. ... She’s got her personality back, her sense of humor, her smile. She becomes distraught if her babies are away too long” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Monday, January 30, 1989).
Could this man be correct about his wife’s condition when she supposedly was “brain dead”?
We are saying there are so many unknowns in the realm of comas, that we should be very careful about hasty judgments here.
Let’s take another case. In June 1987, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a ruling that allowed a man to remove the feeding tube from his 32-year-old wife, Nancy Jobes. She died in August of that year. What about this Nancy? The nursing home which had been taking care of her for seven years objected to the decision. Consider what they said:
“She is not terminally ill. ... She responds to touch and sound stimuli ... follows movements of a person with her eyes ... [and] reacts to pain. ... We believe that withdrawal of Nancy’s feeding tube is not in her best medical interest and would be an illegal act. This would result in the patient’s painful, imminent death by starvation and dehydration” (What in the World, Volume 2, Number 9, 1987).
Is it not possible that the health care workers were right about Nancy Jobes?
We repeat: Medical science doesn’t know enough to say with 100% accuracy what Nancy Jobes was experiencing. There is a time to stop life-sustaining efforts. It is appointed unto men once to die, and the appointed time does come. Our point here is that great caution must be exercised in these matters, and hasty decisions must be avoided regarding the nature of “brain death.” We must understand that medical science does not hold all the answers.
OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO LOVED ONES IS TO CARE FOR THEM, NOT KILL THEM
Consider, finally, that the Bible gives us the responsibility to provide for loved ones, but never are we told that we have the right to kill them! Food and clothing and shelter are not “medical care”! These are the basics of life. The decision to stop providing extreme medical attention when it is clear that it is time for a loved one to depart is one thing. The decision to stop providing food and water, when the individual can take it and digest it, is quite another matter. We do not believe it is right to stop providing the simple basics of life that God has commanded us to provide. An infant is not able to eat on its own, yet we do not stop feeding it on this count!
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” 1 Tim. 5:8
There is a frightful tendency in modern society to ignore basic responsibilities toward loved ones. Nursing and convalescent homes are filled with lonely people who have no loved one to care for them. There are countless aged parents in such homes whose children never visit even though they live nearby. There are invalid children whose parents have basically forgotten about them. We know there is a time when it is best to place a severely invalid loved one in a convalescent home, but we also know that there is often a tendency today for people to neglect their responsibilities toward loved ones. Consider the testimony of Dr. Michael Miller, professor of medicine at New York Medical College and the medical director at a White Plains nursing home:
“Ninety-five percent of the patients come in [to his nursing home] with families already distanced. ... They have had diminished contact, constant struggles, are constantly attacking the nursing home staff, and make demands for premature death. ... It’s not the dementia or the sickness that causes family problems. Family problems began long, long ago and reemerge when the person gets old and sick. And the major way that family ‘pathology’ can get expressed, he said, is to tell the doctors, ‘don’t feed her,’ or ‘don’t treat the pneumonia,’ or, if the parent needs to walk to remain mobile, ‘that will only disturb her. Leave her alone.’ That’s all a way for the family to say, ‘We’ve had enough.’ ... But if such efforts to cut life short were directed, for example, toward Tenderloin derelicts, you’d be guilty of homicide. And it’s no different with nursing home patients” (San Francisco Examiner, November 20, 1983)
Sometimes it is impossible for the infirm and the elderly to be cared for in the home, but it is also true that many of those in nursing homes are there because of the hard-hearted condition of their families. Dr. Miller’s testimony exposes this, and under such conditions, it is even more important not to allow an “easy way out” for such people through misguided euthanasia laws.
I repeat, the responsibility given to us by God is to provide for loved ones, but never are we told we have the right to kill them! A few years ago my wife and I witnessed the case of a friend whose death was hastened by the family. The old man was being cared for by one of his grown children. He was mentally alert to the end and he could eat and drink with help, but the family eventually refused to give him any more food or water, claiming he could not swallow, which was not true. My wife is a nurse and she knew that what the family was saying was not true and that it was not the old man’s desire to die that way. I am convinced that this type of thing is wrong.
It is a proud, foolish, and rebellious society that thinks it has the prerogative of God to end life whenever it wishes. Death is not dignified, and it is not a right; it is a punishment by God upon sinful man. We praise Him, though, that He has not left us to die without hope but He has made a way of salvation through the substitutionary death of His Son Jesus Christ. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
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