News today that should scare the hell out of anyone who wants to die in peace: British scientists have discovered "cognition" in a vegetative patient. Actually, they have found a single person out of 54 vegetative patients who seemed to be able to respond to a yes or no question as measured by an MRI, according to Popular Science.
I realize this may encourage some at the "natural death" end of the pro-life spectrum, especially those who thought Terry Schiavo was "murdered" when her feeding tube was withdrawn. But I find it more to be a sign of our cultural denial of death than an affirmation of life.
The real news here is that most of the patients indeed show no conscious brain activity. One, through the use of incredibly sophisticated technology, seems to be answering yes or no questions. That's not a sign of true consciousness, just the mark of a responsive brain combined with plain human projection. But the more important question: is this a human life? Not by any measure I am aware of. How would you like your only connection to those you love to be a giant magnet, with your conversation limited to 20 questions? Not me, and I doubt the poor guy in the MRI.
Hence the title of this blog: This kind of thing is terrifying to most people--to be paralyzed, minimally conscious, and experimented upon, chained by feeding tubes and machines to a broken body. This is why some people campaign for the right to end their own lives and to seek a physician's assistance in doing so. I think that's a bad idea for all kinds of reasons--people will stop trusting their doctors, some may be encouraged or feel compelled to end their lives because they feel like a burden--but the fast pace and lack of ethical reflection on the part of medical science is going to get us there faster than we think.
"Pro-life" people, and religious ones in particular, shouldn't be encouraging this sort of thing, though I'm sure some will. Death is not something we seek, of course, but it isn't something we finally fear, either. We should be helping one another accept death as a part of life--our own and of those we love--rather than promoting some medical-technological limbo as "pro-life." It is the opposite.