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Monday, November 23, 2009
By Steven L. Taylor

For those unfamiliar, the above is a title from a short story by Harlan Ellison, which contains a hellish account of the torment visited upon the last remnants of humanity at the hands of an intelligent computer.  It was one of the first things that came to mind when I read this horrific account of a true living hell experience by a man who was paralyzed yet conscious for 23 years while his doctors thought he was in a vegetative state (via the Daily Mail):  ‘I screamed, but there was nothing to hear’: Man trapped in 23-year ‘coma’ reveals horror of being unable to tell doctors he was conscious.

It is a breathtakingly horrible tale.

Another thought was Terri Schiavo, as I expected that someone would immediately leap to the notion that she, too, was in a similar state.  Indeed, Quin Hillyer at Amspecblog jumps on Schiavo: Why Schiavo Mattered. In fairness, Hillyer only infers the comparison without actually making much of an argument.

The two cases are not comparable.  In the case of Mr. Houben cited above, appropriate testing found normal brain function:  “new hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally.”  It is unclear as to whether the test in question was not available 23 years ago (the inference one gets from the reference to “hi-tech”) or there was a failure to use the appropriate test.

In regards to Ms. Schiavo, however, tests made clear that her brain was irreparably damaged and was incapable of normal functioning, a fact confirmed by autopsy.

Despite Hillyer’s assertion, the issue for Schiavo was not one of simply choosing death, it was a question of her actual medical condition (as well as a question of whose legal rights were relevant not to mention a great deal of political wrangling), and not a case that parallels that of Mr. Houben.

There are legitimate and difficult issues raised by cases like Schiavo’s, but they are blurred, not clarified, by making false comparisons to dissimilar cases.

Now, one thing that the Houben case does provide is that clearly there are tests that need to be used in cases like his to determine if, in fact, they are truly in persistent vegetative states or not.  No one should be consigned to the hell that Houben lived through.

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2 Responses to “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”

  1. Alex Knapp Says:

    I would rather die than go through that for 23 years.

  2. monica Says:

    I agree. It is too much of pain to bear that long

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