Some Patients in Persistent Vegetative States Have Working Minds. Does Keeping Them in Limbo Amount to Torture?

January 10, 2020

(STAT News) – As a bioethicist, I fear that this optimism may be blinding us to a genuine moral horror: being trapped in this way may be a form of unwitting medical torture. Owen and his team have been able to ascertain that some of the patients they have “communicated” with are not in pain. They also raise the prospect that in the future these individuals may be able to express autonomous decisions that guide us in their care — including whether they wish to continue living trapped inside their brains. That input is certainly an appealing prospect. But what about those who cannot be reached at all?