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Opening Arguments

Hear me

When I watched my aunt suffering with Alzheimer's, I thought that must be the worst condition to be in while still alive. To still know what and who you once were but feeling your mind slipping away and realizing you can't do a damn thing about it -- could anything be more horrible?

Maybe this:

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.

Rom Houben, trapped in his paralysed body after a car crash, described his real-life nightmare as he screamed to doctors that he could hear them - but could make no sound.

'I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,' said Mr Houben, now 46, who doctors thought was in a persistent vegatative state.

Remember Karen Ann Quinlan? Hers was the first right-to-die case to make big news. After a long court fight, her parents finally won the right to unplug her from her "persistent vegetative state," but she lived on in her coma for 10 years after that. We don't know as much as we think we do about what goes on in the human brain, and not ackowledeging what we don't know puts us at risk of making the "right to die" and "death with dignity" rallying cries about us instead of the patients involved.


tim zank
Tue, 11/24/2009 - 12:29pm

Granted Leo, YOU and I don't know as much as we think about what goes on in the human brain, thus making that "death with dignity" and "right to die" issue a tough one, but fortunately Democrats do! So if you find yourself in the situation where someone needs the "plug pulled" just consult The Obamacare Manual or your nearest Democrat in office, they'll know when it's time to yank the cord. They're pretty well versed on when life starts AND ends, just ask one.

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 12:30pm

We should learn more about the brain and try to separate those who can be helped from those who cannot. To me, the Houben case supports ending the lives of those we think are in a persistent vegetative state. 23 years trapped in your body strikes me as being more hellish than death.

Leo Morris
Tue, 11/24/2009 - 1:07pm

But HE says he came to terms with it and considers what he's going through now his "second birth." Your judgment about what is "more hellish than death" would have denied him that.

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 2:12pm

Leo, I hate to throw cold water on this story, but it's fake.
The man isn't "saying" anything. He's typing out responses while someone else guides his hands. It's called "facilitated communication," and it's been utterly debunked. It's no different from Ouija boards.
This is the type of story that is understandably irresistible to the media, but it simply isn't what it purports to be.
Scienceblogs explains it here:
It would be interesting to see this guy's response to a question he would know the answer to, but his facilitator does not.
Sorry guys, he's just in a vegetative state, like they said all along. Considering the alternative, perhaps that's for the best.
I trust the News-Sentinel will run a follow-up on this, setting the record straight. The media (and I've been guilty of this myself) often neglect the less-interesting second-day leads to fascinating horror stories like this.

Leo Morris
Tue, 11/24/2009 - 3:55pm

After watching the video, I'd have to agree that this is a story to be skeptical of. The story I linked to, and Good Morning America, where I first saw it this morning, made no mention of the use of "facilitated communication" ( http://www.skepdic.com/facilcom.html ). Looks like most of the media took it at face value -- more than 900 stories ( http://news.google.com/news/search?aq=f&pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=belgian+man+vegetative+ )from the likes of the New York Times, CBS, The Associated Press and Discover magazine. Some, like Discover, do include the doubts about the process, but most don't. It would be easy to verify or disprove, wouldn't it? The man and his "carer" both speak the same language. Give him a helper who speaks a different language and see how well he does.

tim zank
Tue, 11/24/2009 - 4:49pm

Just wait until we get health care passed and we won't have to worry about him anymore.

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 5:29pm

Tim, Tim, Tim.
We don't have to worry about him now. He's not an American, Tim. Please find some nonpartisan way to contribute to a discussion about what appears to be a fake story that so far has taken in all the mainstream media. This isn't Obama's fault. There is no way in the world you can make this Obama's fault or the "Democrat" Party's fault.
Is that all you can do? Insult Democrats?
Remember the idiot politician (I won't mention the party) who said physicist Stephen Hawking wouldn't be alive under the British health-care system? Then it was pointed out Hawking is British and being cared for under the British system? It's kind of like that.
Have some tea, Tim. You'll feel better.

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 6:05pm

Ouch! Just got my N-S delivered. Your entire news hole on 5A is a completely credulous account of this fake.
Whoever wrote the cutline (AP, I assume) identified the woman doing the typing for that poor guy as his "speech therapist." Ouch. He can't speak.
Everyone says journalists are cynics, but I've noticed most reporters aren't skeptical enough about pseudoscience.
When I was a rookie reporter, I would have fallen for this, too.
Every journalist ought to subscribe to Skeptical Inquirer magazine. It debunks this kind of woo on a regular basis and makes it a lot easier to spot.
This is one of the biggest reasons I miss Johnnie Carson. He used to have guests like James "The Amazing" Randi and Carl Sagan who routinely exposed frauds, such as spoon-bender Uri Geller. Ever since Leno and others took over, it's just been the usual parade of empty-headed starlets discussing their very, very deep views of life.
I have it on excellent authority that AP is looking into the fraud angle.

tim zank
Tue, 11/24/2009 - 6:06pm

Oops, my bad. I never clicked on the link, just read the short excerpt in Leo's post. Guess it's a good thing he doesn't live here, huh? heh heh heh.....As for Hawking, yes that was a stupid statement for the politician to make,he should have said "If Hawking wasn't a world renowned famous scientist, he would have died on the vine long ago in Britain."

The Brit's don't let famous people or their politicians die, just the regular citizenry.

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 7:10pm

Well, yes, I agree with you. If that guy (I've forgotten his name and I'm too lazy to look it up) lived in the US, his private insurance company would have cut him off 15 years ago. You know, rationing and death panels. That's what we have now. If his family got into a fight over unplugging him, some doctor in Congress would proclaim him just two Pilates lessons away from taking up hang gliding. He would then become a political football. Instead, he lives in Belgium, where his 23 years of care have cost his family zilch, and he's still alive (sort of). Very good thing he had the good fortune of living elsewhere.

Wed, 11/25/2009 - 11:13am

So, just to stir the pot a little bit, let's say we've got $10 million to spend. Is that best spent:
a) Keeping vegetative but possibly sentient guy alive;
b) Helping a bunch of people with routine medical care; or
c) Adding a bit to the War on Terror(ism/ists)

Leo Morris
Wed, 11/25/2009 - 11:20am

Where's the challenge (or the sense) in saying "we've got $10 million to spend" in a country where we spend trillions we don't even have?

Wed, 11/25/2009 - 4:39pm

I call cheap shot, Leo. Doug said "let's say."
I play that game almost every day. It usually starts with a daydream about the lottery, or an obscure but rich relative.
But back to coma man.
If you watch the video, you'll notice Coma Man has his eyes closed and is typing with one finger. (He's also drooling, but that's not my point.)
Since everyone reading this is sitting in front of a keyboard, here's an experiment you can do at home, kids.
Close your eyes and, one-fingered, type a coherent sentence. Anything. "The rain in Spain." "It sure sucked being in a coma for 23 years." Whatever.
See the problem? Obviously fake.
Here's my attempt: Tim and Bob are right-wing nuts.
See? Absolute gibberish.

Leo Morris
Wed, 11/25/2009 - 5:55pm

So, you say my issue-oriented comment about the deficit is a "cheap shot," and you answer with a personal insult.