With all of the current debate in the United States over President Obama’s proposed health care legislation, people seem to have firmly chosen sides—based on their political leanings and not necessarily the actual content of the bill, HR 3200.
In a nation that professes a profound reverence for the lives and wellness of its citizens, it is no argument that our system of healthcare delivery fails many patients and that insurance companies and health maintenance organizations have long dodged the bullet of responsibility when they’ve rationed care or denied coverage for certain types of treatments and therapies. That rationing and denial of coverage is most rampant among our most vulnerable citizens—when such treatments and therapies are essential for daily living. And now the government wants in.
Though our current system is in serious need of repair, many fear that a government-run system could open the doors for bureaucrats to make decisions in life and death for patients whose diagnoses are less than promising. This becomes most alarming when certain diagnoses can equal a death sentence for someone who is helpless to save themselves.
On September 20, 2009, Scientific American published a report titled “Conditional Consciousness: Patients in Vegetative States Can Learn, Predicting Recovery.” Citing a study published by Nature Neuroscience, the report states that patients who were previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state were able to relearn behaviors—suggesting cognition in people who had failed more traditional tests for cognitive function and awareness.
Perhaps the most important piece of Scientific American’s article is the following, attributed to the study’s senior author and the director of the Integrative Neurosciences Laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires, Mariano Sigman:
… current designation of either vegetative or minimally conscious did not determine how well patients learned. Some of those who were minimally conscious didn't learn as well as some who were classified as vegetative and vice versa. “I think there’s some consensus that there is a [need for] revision in the way these patients are classified,” Sigman says.
Since the high-profile cases of Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan and my own sister, Terri Schiavo, the public has been encouraged to accept the definition of persistent vegetative state (PVS) as an accurate and reliable one. However, evidence is growing that the diagnosis fails in many cases.