Starved for Logic 2005-03-26

I've mostly tried not posting anything directly about Schiavo - the closest I've been getting being my comments on a couple of the starvation pieces posted yesterday - because it angers me that people feel they have a right to meddle in what should have been a private matter.

However I would like to draw attention to
this great piece over at Blogcritics highlighting the hypocrisy of complaining about Schiavo starving to death all the while opposing legalised euthansia (as the former is a direct result of the latter being illegal, thus preventing doctors from doing anything but withholding treatment)

However what really got my anger rising was one of the comments posted.

I find in amazing that some people still try to use things like smiles and minor movements as proof that she's not in a PSV.

My question to those people is: Have you ever seen what happens to an Alzheimer patient?

Because long after an Alzheimer patient have stopped recognising you, long after they have stopped being able to talk and move about of their own accord, they will still sometimes smile, move their heads and look like there are glimmers of their old selves in there.

Except by then there isn't enough of the brain left for that to be possible.

Instead, their heads are mostly filled with plaque and mostly dead braincells and they're reduced to the most bare physical reflexes.

What you see is an effect of how the brain works: The more recent and the more controlled by though as opposed to reflexes something is, the earlier it tends to disappear. What you're left with is basic automatic reflexes.

Then motor functions go, and sooner or later an organ fails.

The thing is, a patient can be in a persistent vegetative state for years and give what appears to be responses to someone close to them, while the moment you start to rationally look at what they actually do, you will find no correlation with what happens around them. t.

I've seen it happen to both my grandmothers, which is probably why I react so strongly to the idea of "signs" like that.

One is now dead, the other may live physically for a couple more years, but long before her body gives out she will be reduced to bare physical reflexes as well.

For someone who just sees someone in a persistent vegetative state for a short time, or that wants to believe, it may easily seem like they're sometimes responding. They may smile seemingly at some comment, or chuckle briefly, or widen their eyes when someone enters the room.

But try asking them in any way you can think of to respond, and you will quickly see that the "response" is random.

The only real difference between an Alzheimers patient and what has happened to Schiavo is that Alzheimers is degenerative - you get to watch as part by part of the brain go over a period of many years, so you get used to evaluating what is left of the person you loved. Perhaps that makes it easier to accept.

You may see "signs" if you refuse to believe such a person is gone because if you try hard enough to get a reaction, statistically you will eventually get one, at which point you're happy and stop your experiment.

I'm not a medical expert, and obviously I've not seen Schiavo, so perhaps she isn't in a PSV.

However I would claim that anyone that claims she isn't or can't be based only on what they've seen and heard about her reactions in the media are completely clueless.

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