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                                   February 9, 2010

Just Obey God

by Thomas A. Droleskey

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine provides evidence in a "mainstream" medical journal of what many Catholic physicians have known for years: that patients diagnosed as being in what is called a "persistent vegetative state," a term that is rejected by some Catholic physicians but accepted by others, can indeed show signs of awareness and can "willfully modulate" their brain functions. Although this is yet again something that is not news at all, it is interesting that a "mainstream" medical journal has published these findings, which were summarized in the following report on Lifesite News websites:

February 3, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A new study has found that patients deemed to be in a “vegetative” state still have brain function and can even communicate in some cases. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study examined 54 patients with “disorders of consciousness” and assessed their “ability to generate willful” responses during two “established mental-imagery tasks.”

Five of the patients were able to “willfully modulate” their brain activity and three of these displayed “some sign of awareness.” One of the five was able to communicate yes or no answers to simple questions.

These results, the researchers said, indicated that some patients diagnosed as vegetative could have some measure of “preserved awareness.”

The researchers concluded “that a small proportion of patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state have brain activation reflecting some awareness and cognition.”

“Careful clinical examination will result in reclassification of the state of consciousness in some of these patients. This technique may be useful in establishing basic communication with patients who appear to be unresponsive.”

The research, led by Martin M. Monti, Ph.D. of the Medical Research Council Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, England, also warned of high rates of misdiagnosis, up to 40 per cent, in cases of patients in a “minimally conscious state.”

The report noted that “purposeful response to stimulation,” is crucial in assessing patients in a “vegetative state” and has “implications for subsequent care and rehabilitation, as well as for legal and ethical decision making”. In jurisdictions that allow the removal of organs from patients deemed to be “brain dead,” such decision-making is a matter of life and death.

“We were stunned when this happened,” Monti told the New York Times, “I find it literally amazing. This was a patient who was believed to be vegetative for five years.”

Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, who died after her feeding tube was removed under the orders of her husband, responded to the findings of the study, saying that he wished that such technology had been made available for his sister.

“It's upsetting to me when I see this type of research," Schindler said. "We were looking to afford these kinds of tests for Terri, but the court did not allow us to perform these kinds of tests."

Schiavo's case ignited a firestorm of publicity in between 1998 and 2005. Ultimately, the courts sided with doctors who testified that Schiavo was in a persistent, vegetative state with no hope of recovery—though doctors that the Schindlers brought to court said there was a chance of recovery. (Vegetative” Patients may Retain Awareness: Study)


The results of this study are useful to help convince physicians and therapists of the fact that many of those who are severely brain-damaged are nevertheless aware of their surroundings and that they can communicate to a certain extent with others. Alas, these findings are not news as Dr. Lawrence Huntoon, the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, wrote to me in 2005 after an article of mine appeared in Catholic Family News (remember those days?) to explain, in response to the general acceptance of the autopsy that had been performed on the late Mrs. Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo in 2005, how those in what he accepts as a persistent vegetative state have recovered as a result of various treatment measures:

Statements, based on the autopsy, that Terri could not swallow food and water even if it was offered to her, likewise received a "free pass" from the media.  I have taught neuranatomy, neurophysiology and I have taken sufficient neuropathology to know that one cannot possibly make such statements about swallowing function based solely on an autopsy. Statements regarding lack of cognitive thought based solely on an autopsy are also incredulous - how can one possibly know if one is capable of "thinking" based on an autopsy? The sharpest neurologists in the world can't even determine if a living person is capable of thought - and recent research (reviewed in my editorial) reveals that people with severe neurologic impairments have functional brain processes that heretofore we did not appreciate.  

Likewise, statements based on the autopsy that "Terri was blind," and "incapable of visual tracking," fail to explain Terri's apparent ability to visually track a balloon which could be clearly seen by anyone who visited her website and viewed the video clip. 

Statements based on the autopsy that because of "massive loss of neurons" Terri would never have improved irrespective of whatever treatment or therapy would be given, are simply not supported by science. There is absolutely no way one can conclude from her autopsy findings how she would or would not have responded had she been given aggressive therapy or other treatments.   

I have treated a patient (about Terri's age) who was neurologically devastated because of multiple strokes and a bout of herpes encephalitis. Both of his frontal lobes and both of his temporal lobes were severely atrophied to the point of almost being absent-- i.e. a massive loss of neurons. That is 4 lobes of the brain that were almost totally gone. Based on the faulty hypothesis that such a large volume loss in the brain means that the person is incapable of responding, one would conclude that this patient's situation was hopeless. But, the fact of the matter is the devastating anatomy seen on CT scans and MRI scans did not preclude this patient from responding.  Each and every time he came into my office, he would recognize me and he would smile, make some "happy" (albeit unintelligible) noises, and he would extend his hand (the one that wasn't paralyzed) to shake mine (i.e. he had social abilities). One day, in total defiance of those who would conclude that such a severely neurologically devastated patient could never communicate in any meaningful way (since he mainly made unintelligible noises), I asked him to say his ABCs and to count with me. Much to my total amazement, I started the ABCs, and he finished them.  I started counting from 1 to 10, and he finished it. I could understand his speech--it wasn't unintelligible. No one had ever asked him to do this before because they felt he was incapable--i.e. a self fulfilling prophecy. I subsequently tried to get him speech therapy, but my attempt was not successful because under the socialized medicine program of Medicare (which rations medical care), he "didn't qualify" because speech therapists could not promise that he would definitely improve with further speech therapy. Again, if you don't give the therapy, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - no improvement.   

Shortly after Terri was killed, via dehydration and starvation, came the case of Buffalo fire fighter Mr Donald Herbert. Mr. Herbert was in a persistent vegetative state (pro-death people like to say persistent vegetative-like state to try and set it apart from Terri's case). He was in a severely impaired, vegetative state for more than 10 years. By any "pro death", "death with dignity" standard, it was "hopeless." But, unlike Terri's case, where her spouse did not push for continued aggressive therapy, Mr. Herbert's spouse was extremely persistent. One day, shortly after Terri was killed, Mr. Herbert awoke and started talking coherently with friends and family. Had a judge determined 2 years ago that Mr. Herbert should be put to death because he was in a PVS with "no hope" of recovery, his family would never have gotten this opportunity to have him back again, nor he to have his family back again. It should also be noted that Mr. Herbert's brain suffered the same type of injury (due to lack of oxygen) that Terri's brain suffered (an "irreversible" injury). As news articles about Mr. Herbert's remarkable recovery circulated, certain prophetic medical examiners were left red-faced and speechless. (Dr Huntoon on Terri Schiavo's Autopsy Report; see also Dr. Huntoon's Why Terri Schiavo Had to Die.)


The evidence has been there all along. So few people, including so few Catholics, have wanted to examine the evidence.

As important as this evidence is, however, we must remember, of course, that the humanity of those who are brain-damaged, whether minimally or severely, does not depend on the extent of their cognitive abilities or their state of awareness of their environment and those around them. The humanity of a living human being is defined by the fact that he has a rational, immortal soul made in the very image and likeness of the Most Blessed Trinity. No brain-damaged human being is, to quote a prelate with whom I had an e-mail exchange on the case of the late Mrs. Theresa Marie Schindler-Schiavo, nearly two years ago, a "headless corpse." Such a human being is need of spiritual and temporal care until the moment of his death, a moment that may never be expedited by the deliberate denial of food and water


There is never any "choice" involved in the provision of food and water to a living human being just as there is never any "choice" involved when a woman discovers that she is pregnant and/or that her preborn baby is suffering from some kind of abnormality. There is no "choice," which is why the Tim Tebow advertisement that ran during the Super Bowl (and which I saw online after the fact) sends the wrong message as we have no "choice" when it comes to the Fifth Commandment but to obey God's eternal, immutable laws: Thou shalt not kill. Period. End of discussion.

To admit that one can take measures to terminate the lives of people whose brain has been damaged and who appear to have no human chance for recovery is to admit that God's prohibition against the direct killing of innocent human beings may be violated in order to dispatch those who are deemed to have lost their "capacity" to "function fully" as interactive human beings. There are several words that can be used to describe this belief: utilitarian, Hitlerian, draconian, demonic.

Irreparable brain-damage as a justification for the removal of food and water? The alleged "impossibility" of recovery on the part of one whose brain has been damaged? Admit this and then it is a very easy thing for most stroke victims to be dispatched. After all, why should a person who has no hope of regaining his memory and/or the use of his limbs or the ability to speak or to feed himself without some level of assistance from others have his life extended indefinitely by providing him with food and water? Can't feed yourself? Just starve and dehydrate away to death. Not a "fully functional" human being who is able to interact with others? You have lost your worth as a human being. Suffering from Alzheimer's disease and have forgotten how to eat? We won't help you to eat. Your brain is atrophying. You are dying. Better that you die than we provide you with nourishment that will only "prolong" the "dying process."

This mentality is but an extension after birth of the pro-abortion mentality before birth.

A hydrocephalous baby who is destined to die within minutes or hours after being born? By all means, the "merciful" thing to do is to "terminate" the pregnancy.

A child diagnosed prenatally with Down's Syndrome? Ah, it is up to the parents to decide whether they want to bear the "burden" of caring for such a dependent being all of his life. It's their choice after all?

It is an easy thing to deny the humanity of a human being after birth if it is admitted that such humanity may be denied before birth. Remember, one so-called medical expert told Wesley Smith, who is an expert in the field of both active and passive euthanasia, that Terri Schiavo had "ceased" to be a human being as a result of the brain-damage she suffered, something that the prelate with whom I was communicating two years ago now contended was indeed the case, that Terri Schiavo had "died" as a result of her brain-damage. She had not died. She was not near death when her execution by dehydration and starvation began on Thursday, March 17, 2005. One's humanity does not "cease" because of brain-damage (please see Dr. Paul Byrne on Brain Death, From The Michael Fund Newsletter).

This is exactly what Hillaire Belloc and Gilbert Keith Chesterton predicted would happen in their own day in the early Twentieth Century as a result of the illogic of social engineering. It is exactly what Dr. Charles E. Rice wrote about forty-one ago in his prophetic The Vanishing Right to Live. That Catholics have accepted the representations of the pro-death medical community in cases that arises after birth demonstrates a woeful understanding of the importance of actively combating both contraception and abortion with all of the strength that can be provided by the graces won for us by Our Lord by the shedding of every single drop of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross.

No disciple of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ can turn away from one who is in need of food and water. The cross that each person is called upon to bear in life is perfectly fitted by Our Lord for that person and those around him.

Those who suffer and are in need of assistance are sources of grace to those around them, not "burdens" to be discarded and thrown away by the invocation of false slogans ("compassion," "death with dignity," "respecting the wishes of a dying person," etc.). There is not one thing that any of us suffers in his own life or that is suffered by someone we love that is the equal of what one of our least Venial Sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity on the wood of the Holy Cross.

Part of the way we save our souls is to serve others as we would serve Our Lord Himself, seeing His very impress in them and His own cross in their own sufferings. We have Sanctifying Grace and the intercessory help of the Blessed Mother, who suffered so valiantly at the foot of her Divine Son's Holy Cross as she saw the horrible toll that each one of our sins exacted on the Flesh He had taken from her flesh and the Most Precious Blood that had come from her own pure, undefiled blood, and the help of all of the angels and the saints. Anyone who states that the sufferings of others, admitting the distinctions between extraordinary medical treatment and ordinary care given to a living human being (the subject of past articles on this site), are "burdensome" and too much for family members to bear is denying the Omniscience of God, Who has known from all eternity what crosses would come our way, and the sufficiency of His graces to bear our sufferings as consecrates slaves of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart

We do not base a human being's absolute and unswerving right to food and water on the basis of the state of his or her brain. We feed and give water to others until God decides to take them home to Himself, not until we believe that the "time" is right as a result of the seeming "hopelessness" of a particular case. The seeming hopelessness of a physical recovery of someone might just be the path by someone who has not prayed in years can find his way back to the practice of the Holy Faith and to become a devoted adorer of Our Lord in His Real Presence and a true son of Mary, practicing the True Devotion to Mary promoted by Saint Louis de Montfort.

Unfortunately, even some traditional Catholics have lost sight of the fact that it is important to defend the inviolability of all innocent human life without any exception whatsoever. The inviolability of human life is, of course, not an ultimate end. Each of us is going to die. We are not required to take extraordinary means to preserve life (as I have noted endlessly on this site, providing examples to illustrate the point) and we may be required to voluntarily surrender our physical lives in defense of the Faith or our family members. True enough.

However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the worldwide genocide of the preborn, both by means of chemical and surgical abortions, and the growing menace posed by the practice of both active and passive euthanasia just because there are spiritual abortions taking place in every Catholic diocese under conciliar captivity in the world We cannot stand aside as our brothers and sisters are being murdered just because there are indeed grave offenses taking place against Our Blessed Lord and Savour Jesus Christ the Deposit of Faith at the hands of the conciliar "popes" and "bishops" and "priests" and "theologians."

While it is very true that the remote cause of abortion and euthanasia are to be found in the Protestant Revolt and the rise of Judeo-Masonry and, more proximately, conciliarism's embrace of the false premises of Modernity, we must stand up for moral truth when it is under attack  As the effort to dispatch just one living human being because he or she is deemed to be "useless" is never a "local" matter. Moral truth matters to God just as much as complete fidelity to the Deposit of Faith, which is why we must never flag in our efforts to defend moral truth when it is under attack by those who denigrate the seriousness of personal sin and/or who make grave errors of fact and principle concerning the care that is required to be given those who are brain-damaged.

Although there will indeed be no ultimate amelioration of the problems we face in the world until the restoration of the Church Militant on earth as a result of the Triumph of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, we are indeed called upon to do what we can, both in prayer and in action, to help those innocent human beings whose physical lives are being threatened in a wicked, demonic age.

Yes, of course, we must denounce doctrinal falsehood and error, recognizing that, for all  of the "pro-life" rhetoric of the conciliar officials, they help to contribute to a culture of eternal death by committing sins against the First and Second Commandment openly and brazenly and as they blaspheme God in a false liturgy that has robbed so many millions of Catholics of a belief in the Mass as a propiatory offering for human sins and of a belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. However, we cannot wait until Our Lady vanquishes the conciliarists once and for all to defend moral truth when it is under attack. We must do what we can now, trusting in the graces that Our Lord sends to us through the loving hands of His Most Blessed Mother, the Mediatrix of All Graces.

Most importantly, of course, each of us must have a heart, formed by the perfect love that exists between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that sees in others the impress of Our Lord Himself, never counting the cost of giving as much love and care and service as is required to do unto others as we would do unto the Divine Redeemer Himself.

We must learn to accept that the handicapped and the disabled and the infirmed and the elderly are gifts given us by God to help us give Him honor and glory and to help us to sanctify and to save our souls. We must keep close to Our Lady so that we will give to others what she gives to us at all times: a love that keeps loving now, and at the hour of our deaths, praying as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit.

Viva Cristo Rey! Vivat Christus Rex!

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.

Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.

Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.

Saints Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, pray for us.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, pray for us.

See also: A Litany of Saints



© Copyright 2010, Thomas A. Droleskey. All rights reserved.