Man trapped in 23-year “coma” misdiagnosed

Reminder: come see Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coaltion, speak in the SMC Senior Common Room tonight at 6pm! This is the third post in our series about euthanasia and assisted suicide this week, surrounding his talk.

Horrific barely begins to describe what Rom Houben went through (via Mathew Ingram):

A car crash victim has spoken of the horror he endured for 23 years after he was misdiagnosed as being in a coma when he was conscious the whole time[…]

I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,’ said Mr [Rom] Houben, now 46, who doctors thought was in a persistent vegatative state[…]

Doctors used a range of coma tests before reluctantly concluding that his consciousness was ‘extinct’.

But three years ago, new hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally[…]

Therapy has since allowed him to tap out messages on a computer screen.

Mr Houben said: ‘All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.’

His case has only just been revealed in a scientific paper released by the man who ‘saved’ him, top neurological expert Dr Steven Laureys.

‘Medical advances caught up with him,’ said Dr Laureys, who believes there may be many similar cases of false comas around the world.

The disclosure will also renew the right-to-die debate over whether people in comas are truly unconscious[…]

Mr Houben said: ‘I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me – it was my second birth.

‘I want to read, talk with my friends via the computer and enjoy my life now that people know I am not dead.’

Dr Laureys’s new study claims that patients classed as in a vegetative state are often misdiagnosed.

‘Anyone who bears the stamp of “unconscious” just one time hardly ever gets rid of it again,’ he said[…]

Dr Laureys said: ‘In Germany alone each year some 100,000 people suffer from severe traumatic brain injury[…]

‘An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people a year remain trapped in an intermediate stage – they go on living without ever coming back again.’

Supporters of euthanasia and assisted suicide argue that people who have lain in persistent vegetative states for years should be given the opportunity to have crucial medical support withdrawn because of the ‘indignity’ of their condition.

But there have been several cases in which people judged to be in vegetative states or deep comas have recovered.

Twenty years ago, Carrie Coons, an 86-year-old from New York, regained consciousness after a year, took small amounts of food by mouth and engaged in conversation.

Only days before her recovery, a judge had granted her family’s request for the removal of the feeding tube which had been keeping her alive.

As medical technology improves, it serves to highlight the falsehood in labeling people as “vegetables” so that we might rationalize killing them instead of caring for them. Once again, advances in medical technology reinforce the pro-life position and affirm the humanity of vulnerable people.

Previous posts in this series:

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