I heard on the BBC news just now that scientists using new-fangled brain scanning equipment have discovered that a woman in a persistent vegetative state is aware of her surroundings and can even respond to commands. This is surprising, and does lead me to wonder how many people in such states actually still have a person inside the husk. But what worries me is the likely reaction of the public. I'm quite sure that most people will think that this discovery should lead us to be more aggressive about keeping their hearts beating and less ready to pull the plug.
Frankly, this horrifies me. I don't know if it's that I have more imagination than most people, or just a different outlook on the world, but I think that being condemned to remain conscious trapped in a body that cannot move or communicate would be ghastly beyond belief. I've long believed that if consciousness has departed never to return, the person is already dead even if their body is still maintaining homeostasis, and it's a foolish waste of valuable medical resources to keep it 'alive' -- but if these findings are born out, and it's found to be a common condition, I think it's even more important to terminate life support as soon as it's clear that the person isn't going to wake up. I cannot accept keeping a loved one in a state I wouldn't wish on the most foul murderer as a moral act. And I certainly hope that if I'm ever in such a state, someone will care enough about me to end my suffering -- and that they won't face criminal charges for it.
The one place I can agree with the "pro-life" lobby is that this finding does mean that removing the feeding tube from a vegetable* is not the right thing to do. If there's someone alive inside there, starving them to death is cruel. A large dose of IV potassium chloride is much more appropriate.
*(Is it politically correct to call a human in a persistent vegetative state a vegetable? Probably not, but do I care?)