Thursday, 26 November 2009


The story emerged during the week of the Belgian man who spent 23 years diagnosed as a comatose, and who now with the help of ultra modern therapy has described how he was conscious all the while. Rom Houben appeared to be in a vegetative state after being involved in a car crash, according to the expert diagnostics of the 1980’s. Now however with the aid of a specialised brain scan and computer technology he is able to communicate by pointing to letters on a screen using his little finger. He has described the loneliness and isolation of the last two decades as he lay there fully aware of his surroundings but unable to communicate. He wrote of his ordeal, “Just imagine. You hear, see, feel, and think but no one can see that. You undergo things. You cannot participate in life”. He went on to describe his new found ability to interact as being reborn. The doctor who discovered that Mr Houben had been wrongly diagnosed is now re-examining dozens of other cases. His studies have revealed that 40 pc of patients with consciousness disorders are wrongly given a diagnosis of a vegetative state.

When my uncle Frank had a stroke last year he spent several days just lying in the bed apparently oblivious to his surroundings. The medical staff essentially told us that his chances of any further recovery were negligible and they wanted to withdraw his naso-gastric feed and hydration. At the time we strenuously protested and he did recover limited mobility and full mental recognition within a week or two. One doctor was gracious enough to admit that they had got it wrong and he described Frank’s progress as nothing short of miraculous. Sadly Frank died after an unfortunate circumstance that I wont go into here. My point is that when medical professionals play God with human life they sometimes get it wrong.

There is a clamour in some quarters for so called ‘mercy’ killing to be made lawful in extreme cases where someone is terminally ill or whose quality of life is deemed to be very poor. The problem with this is who will adjudicate on the length or the quality of a human life. Traditionally God has been seen as the giver and the taker of life, but in our post-faith age rational humanism has opened up the pandoras box of mercy-killing at the latter stages of a life, having already established the right to abortion at the very beginning of life. I recall listening to the late Philosopher and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer back in the 1980’s predicting that after the abortion battle, euthanasia would be next and then infanticide.At the time these words seemed somewhat dramatic now however they are chillingly true. Life is God’s gift (1Corinthians 3: 16 and Genesis 1: 26) and we are not the arbiters of when it is extinguished, even Job in his distress declared, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1: 21). The recent story of Rom Houben reminds us powerfully of how sacred and mysterious the gift of life is and even with our expertise we can sometimes read the signs incorrectly, pointing us towards a course of action that could be catastrophic.

Gerard O'Shea


John said...

We who claim to live in one "Kingdom" expect those who live in another to live by our rules. This has not and cannot ever be. Why people are suprised by this constantly suprises me!

Eamon said...

Good Comment, from the other side.

Deirdre said...

Its unbelievably that someone could spend so long trapped inside their own body. Its the stuff of nightmares. I imagine there must have been others that were never discovered.