Thursday, February 28, 2019

Rise in Suicide Resulting from Lowered Painkiller Prescriptions

By Mary Lamphere

Suicide rates are on the rise and despite CDC reporting ignoring the fact that those who have their prescription pain medications ripped away from them are 30% more likely to commit suicide in the following 6 months, many are demanding change. Physicians for Responsible Opiate Prescribing (PROP) in conjunction with the CDC, are responsible for the fear tactics that have resulted in many physicians refusing to prescribe pain medication to long-term, chronic opioid therapy patients, despite the risks of abrupt discontinuation or the threat of suicide that has entailed. Sadly, recent reports show that this has led to a significant, and continued, rise in the number of chronic pain patients that are resorting to suicide as a means of getting “relief.”

Initiatives to STOP Prescribing

 
Several states and federal agencies have vowed to stop prescribing opiates even to those who legitimately need the medications in order to have any quality of life. The VA, state level authorities and several hospitals including the Colorado Hospital Association are working toward goals of zero opioid prescribing. Many have already enacted no-opioid policies and others are seeking similar relief programs to eradicate the use of opiates such as Hydrocodone, Oxycodone or Dilaudid in their treatment.

But what is this doing to those who have been prescribed the medications for months, or years prior?

Many resort to suicide—the only known method of treatment for their debilitating pain.

CDC Ignores Suicides

In 2016, the suicide rate was over 45K people in the U.S. this rivals rates of opiate overdose which were approximately 42,000. Nationwide, suicides have risen about 30% since the late 1990s and continue to rise in direct correlation with the number of opiate prescriptions that are reduced. However, despite the very specific correlation between the number of people dying by suicide compared to the reduction in the number of opiate prescriptions, the CDC fails to recognize the dangers and has yet to issue a true statement to doctors about this.

CDC can give vast information about WHO commits suicide and WHY. They mention that mental health is not always a factor and that things like substance abuse, physical health problems and financial problems are often the root cause of suicide. However, they fail to mention or to go into detail as to whether those who commit suicide are or were recently pain management patients.

When asked directly if lack of access to opioid medications could be contributing to the suicide rates of pain patients, the CDC mentions that they are not investigating the direct correlation between suicide deaths and lack of medication or treatment for pain. They go on to mention that the management of pain is an important issue that is being examined by the CDC, but that the CDC is only tracking prescriptions, NOT the quality of pain care.

Quality Meets Quantity

While we are opposed to getting more people addicted to prescription opiates such as Oxycodone or Hydrocodone, and we recognize the need for quality addiction treatment programs, we encourage the CDC to take further action and to look into the quality vs quantity question in relation to pain management. Are patients experiencing less quality of life due to a lower quantity of pain medications being made available to them on a daily basis?

In a recent survey of pain patients, over 40% mention that in the year since the CDC had made their guidelines public and since doctors had been cutting back on prescriptions, they had contemplated suicide because they considered their pain management to be so poorly treated. Further studies show that hundreds or thousands of patients that recently had their medications stripped away have committed suicide in the six months following erratic changes in their treatment.

Mary is a dedicated journalist at www.addictions.com and www.detox.com with a background in addiction treatment and recovery. She mostly writes about the ways that drug addiction can interfere with interpersonal relationships but enjoys all things recovery related. When she's not thinking about her writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends.


More information on this topic:
Wesley Smith: Sacrificing pain patients to prevent opioid abuse.
Alex Schadenberg: Will Oregon's plan to eliminate opioid prescriptions for chronic pain medicaid patients increase requests for assisted suicide?
Nancy Valko: The Opioid crisis and suicide.
Amy Hasbrouck and Taylor Hyatt: Disability and the Opioid crisis.
Not Dead Yet: The Opioid crisis and the news that isn't talked about.

We mourn the loss of Dr LL (Barrie) deVeber


Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Barrie & Iola deVeber in 2012.
It is with profound sadness that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition announces the death of their founding President, Dr. L.L. “Barrie” deVeber.


Barrie was born on January 27, 1929 and died on February 28, 2019. 
Dr Barrie deVeber obituary.
Barrie was married to Iola (2015) and they had six children.

Barrie with myself
Barrie was a paediatric oncologist and a pioneer in paediatric palliative care. His caring and innovative work with children with cancer, pregnant women with the Rh factor, and hemophilia patients, affected the lives of many. His medical career took him around the globe, from Canada to England to the USA, to Saudi Arabia to Africa. Barrie was Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario (Paediatrics /Oncology). 

Barrie was the founding President of the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research, and founding President of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. 

He was a also founding member of various organizations, including Camp Trillium, The Sunshine Club, London and Area Right to Life, and the Montessori School of London, to name a few. A vocal advocate of pro-life, Barrie made countless presentations to government and local communities, educating them on the innate humanity and dignity of the unborn, and the importance of respecting human life, from conception to natural death.

Barrie lived life to the fullest. His Irish charm made him a friend of many. He was a dear friend. He will be missed.

The book - Barrie: The Memoirs of Dr. L.L. deVeber was published in 2015.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Carrie Ann Lucas Dedicated Her Amazing Skills To Save Lives

This article was published by Not Dead Yet on Feb 25, 2019.

Diane Coleman
By Diane Coleman
Not Dead Yet President & CEO

Across the country, people who knew and worked with Carrie Ann Lucas are mourning her untimely death at the young age of 47. Over the last year, we watched as insurers denied what she needed and doctors couldn’t take the time to listen to one of the sharpest minds in our movement explain how to integrate their treatments with her body’s needs. We’re grieving, and we’re angry.

We’re also honoring her amazing life. Carrie began serving on NDY’s national Board in January 2013. She made so many unique and abiding contributions to the disability movement that it would be impossible to capture them all. But here are some of the ways that Carrie worked to save lives through her incredible efforts on behalf of Not Dead Yet.

World Federation Protest

 
In September 2014, Carrie traveled from her home in Colorado to Chicago to participate in the NDY protest of the World Federation of Right To Die Societies’ biannual conference. She was a very skilled photographer who visually documented three days of protest activities which can be viewed via a link on our website page about the protest. One of these photos is the banner on our home page.

Resisting Assisted Suicide in Colorado

Carrie took the lead in organizing a group of disability activists to fight assisted suicide bills and initiatives in Colorado. Not Dead Yet Colorado members testified beginning in February 2015, as shown in a press release: Disability Activists from Not Dead Yet and Other Colorado Organizations to Testify in Opposition to Colorado Assisted Suicide Bill. The bill died in committee, as reported by the Denver Post.

But that wasn’t the end of the issue. Several months later, NDY Colorado Issued a “Media Advisory Opposing Proposed CO Constitutional Amendment on Assisted Suicide.” The amendment didn’t go anywhere.

The bill came back in 2016, and Carrie testified before the Colorado Senate State Senate, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on February 3rd that year:

“I am a person with multiple disabilities. I have a progressive neuromuscular disease that has caused me to lose muscle function throughout my entire body. I have weakness in every muscle in my body, including my facial and eye muscles. My organs are affected, I have low vision, and I am very hard of hearing. I have a gastrostomy tube, and I am dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Without my ventilator, I don’t have years to live. I don’t have 6 months, 6 weeks, or 6 days, I have hours. I have a terminal condition – very much like ALS, and I would be covered by this bill. I understand the sponsors have said this bill is not for the disabled, but respectfully the sponsors are incorrect. This bill directly affects me, my family and my community. 
“If I were to become depressed, either situational depression, or major depression, and this bill passes, I could go to my doctor and ask for a lethal prescription. Because I have a disability, and because physicians are terrible at evaluating quality of life of people with disabilities, I would likely be given that lethal prescription, rather than be referred for mental health treatment. And if my doctor did not give me the lethal prescription, I could simply doctor shop until I found one who would. A woman in my situation but without my disabilities would not get a lethal prescription, and would most likely encounter a vigorous effort to ensure she did not take her life. That is disability discrimination.”
She also put on her lawyer hat and further explained what’s wrong with the bill from that perspective. To read her full testimony, go here. Both Carrie and Anita Cameron, who lived in Colorado at that time, also had op-eds published which are excerpted with links in an NDY blog. Again, the bill did not make it through the committee.

So next, assisted suicide proponents went for a ballot measure, which Carrie, the Colorado NDY group and ADAPT protested by holding a funeral march: Disability Activists from Not Dead Yet and ADAPT Engage in Funeral March to Protest Assisted Suicide Ballot Measure. Unfortunately, the ballot measure passed.

Still, it is never too late to educate people about the dangers of making assisted suicide another “medical treatment” in our insensitive and profit conscious healthcare system. This past November, we blogged about how Carrie did just that on a Facebook program called “Imperfect Union”, which produced a Video of Carrie explaining some of the dangers of assisted suicide laws to a proponent.

Me Before You

When the ridiculous assisted suicide movie “Me Before You” came out, Carrie rolled up her sleeves and applied her graphics skills to pull together material from our sister organization, Not Dead Yet UK, and develop a banner and flyers that disability activists around the country used to hold protests of the movie. Many people sent photos from their protests to her, so she put them together in a video, accompanied by Johnny Crescendo’s brilliant song “Not Dead Yet.”

VIDEO: The Disability Community Responds to Me Before You movie

Jerika Bolen

O
Jerika Bolen
f all Carrie’s contributions to NDY’s work, the one I think about most often is her leadership in the effort to save the life of 14-year-old Jerika Bolen. Like Jerika, Carrie along with several of us in NDY experienced teenage years as a person with serious, progressive neuromuscular disabilities. Jerika said she wanted to die, but she was not treated like a suicidal nondisabled 14-year-old would be. We were horrified as her story unfolded. We received hate mail from nondisabled people in response to our efforts.

After Jerika’s death, Carrie did a very moving public radio interview explaining the disability discrimination that ultimately led to her death. John Kelly handled the creation of a captioned video of media photos of Jerika along with the interview to ensure that Carrie’s message would be heard and seen as widely as possible. Here’s a little of what she said:

“If we’re going to let children make these decisions, then we should be able to let children make ‪these decisions regardless of disability. ‪So we have to then be willing to say that the depressed fourteen year old who broke ‪up with her boyfriend who wants to die should get to die as well. ‪Otherwise this is disability discrimination, because some children get intensive suicide ‪prevention and other children don’t. ‪And it’s based only on disability, and that’s discrimination. 
‪”Either it’s okay for everybody or it’s not okay. ‪It’s either one or the other. ‪But we should not be saying it’s okay for a disabled teenager to die, because people who don’t ‪have disabilities have an imagination of what quality of life should be like for a disabled person, ‪and that is poor. ‪ 
“Because they can’t imagine in their own heads what it would be like to live with a disability, ‪when in fact those of us living with a disability, with the same disability ‪are telling you, no, it’s really not bad. ‪There’s something else going on here because we have that lived experience. ‪We know that. ‪We are the experts in this.”
More about the struggle to save Jerika’s life is available in the NDY blog here.

Carrie’s work earned her center seat in the annual award given by New Mobility magazine which named those who fought to save Jerika as its People of the Year – The Resisters. In a drawing, the magazine depicted Carrie as the superhero she was.

Suicide lobby operates comprehensive suicide information website.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition


Several days ago I published an article titled: Assisted dying can cause inhumane deaths. This article explains the research by Professor Jaideep Pandit that was published in the British Medical Journal.

While doing further research on the suicide lobby's involvement with developing suicide drug cocktails I came across a website that appears to be operated by the suicide lobby providing detailed suicide information, similar to the book that is sold by euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke.

It shocks me that anyone who does a google search will come across suicide websites that only require you to link to the qualifier, 18 or older to enter the site.


I think this is crazy.

I live in a country where the suicide rate continues to increase. My country legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide under the term MAiD. We deny that this will increase our suicide rate. Websites that provides all the necessary instructions for my self-destruction are easy to find.


People consider suicide when they are at the lowest time of their life, when they are emotionally and psychologically in the darkest place. These sites enable suicide.

I have provided too much information already.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Dangers of Removing the Safeguards of Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law

An open letter from Dr Kenneth Stevens, President, Physicians for Compassionate Care

Dr Kenneth Stevens
Since 1994, the proponents of Oregon's assisted suicide law have touted the importance of the safeguards and protections of that law.


Now, Oregon's legislators are considering bills (HB 2232, HB 2903, SB 579) to eliminate many of those safeguards (eliminates waiting periods, expands definition of "terminal illness," permits lethal injection and inhalation euthanasia) and expand access to assisted suicide.

Why and Why now?

What is happening in medicine in the United States? There is increasing concern regarding the cost of medical care. A current (February 13, 2019) editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), titled "Rationing of Health Care in the United States - An Inevitable Consequence of Increasing Health Care Costs" reviews the challenges of increasing medical costs, and it deems it critical to control health care costs.

One way to control health care costs is to expand Oregon's assisted suicide law, to make it available to more people. The assisted suicide drugs can be less expensive than continued medical care.

Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society, argued in 1998 that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia can solve the problem of rising health care costs, "Economics makes case for euthanasia", The Oregonian, Dec 2, 1998.

We have seen this in Oregon, where the Oregon Health Plan refused to cover beneficial life-extending cancer treatment to patients such as Barbara Wagner, but offered assisted suicide instead.

It is wrong and dangerous to expand the criteria for assisted suicide in Oregon. It is harmful to very vulnerable Oregonians. The Oregon legislature should not proceed with the proposed bills.

I encourage you to contact your legislators regarding these dangers.

Kenneth R. Stevens Jr., MD,
President, Physicians for Compassionate Care Educational Foundation 

Further information:
Oregon attempts to expand assisted-suicide license. 
Oregon will debate bills to expand the definition of terminal and waive the waiting period.

Successful screenings of Fatal Flaws in Oregon

By Dr Kenneth Stevens
President, Physicians for Compassionate Care


Dr Bill Toffler, Dr Chuck Bentz, Alex Schadenberg, Dr Ken Stevens
The “Fatal Flaws – Legalizing Assisted Death” film was shown to over 200 people in Portland, Salem and Medford Oregon on February 17 - 19, 2019. This important film produced by Kevin Dunn of DunnMedia & Entertainment and Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition shows both sides of the assisted suicide and euthanasia experience in Europe and North America. The version shown was the 56 minute International educational version. Link to order the film.
Fatal Flaws film will change the way you view assisted death.
Alex Schadenberg, the Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition from Ontario, Canada was present at all three presentations to introduce and provide additional information about this important film.

Drs. Bill Toffler, Chuck Bentz and Ken Stevens were also present to answer questions and provide additional commentary regarding assisted suicide.

 

Oregon Right to Life helped by organizing, advertising and obtaining venues for each of the presentations.

Each presentation was received with much interest and enthusiasm, with many appropriate questions and comments from attendees.

We appreciate all the effort that went into the production of this important film production; and to Alex Schadenberg in coming to Oregon from Ontario, Canada for these presentations.

We encourage those interested in assisted suicide and euthanasia information and experience, to purchase the Fatal Flaws film and accompanying printed pamphlets, and to show the film to others in your communities. You may be able to book Alex Schadenberg for your event.


See www.FatalFlawsFilm.com for more information.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Quebec man found guilty of manslaughter in the death of his wife. He said it was a "mercy killing."

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Michel Cadotte convicted.
Michel Cadotte, the Québec man who killed his wife, Jocelyne Lizette (60) by suffocation on February 20, 2017, was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury.


Cadotte, claimed that his wife wouldn't have wanted to live this way. Cadotte had asked for euthanasia for his wife and was turned down because she was not capable of making the request. CTV news reported:

The trial has heard that a year earlier Cadotte sought a medically assisted death for his wife of 19 years and was told by centre staff she didn't qualify. A head nurse at the Emilie Gamelin long-term care facility testified Cadotte admitted to her she suffocated his wife.
Nicolas Welt, the lawyer for Cadotte, argued that his client was not criminally responsible because of his state of mind at the time of the murder.
Michel Cadotte trial. Murder or "Mercy Killing?"
The National Post stated that the media framed the case as a "compassionate killing." and reported that Justice Helene Di Salvo charged the jury with determining whether Cadotte was to be convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter. The National Post reported:
Cadotte’s lawyers had argued, without the jury present, that an acquittal should be possible, but the judge ruled it wasn’t an option. 
The accused had admitted to killing Lizotte and the legal criteria had not been met for acquittal, Di Salvo ruled. In her final instructions, she told the jurors they should not take into account the potential sentence, because sentencing is the judge’s responsibility.
I agree with how the judge ruled and the decision of the Jury, but I expect that this court decision will be appealed.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Summary Points Against Bills to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Not Dead Yet is a disability rights group that leads the opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Link to their website.

Summary Points Against Bills to Legalize Assisted Suicide
• If assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted or even proposed that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone. 
• Assisted suicide is too dangerous.
Assisted suicide is a recipe for abuse, including elder abuse. Where assisted suicide is legal, an heir or abusive caregiver may steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug—no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know?


Diagnoses of terminal illness are too often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives, and endangering people with disabilities, people with chronic illness, and other people misdiagnosed as terminally ill.


People with depression are at significant risk.


Once the prescription is filled, there are no safeguards. Why are safeguards missing at the most important point?
• Assisted suicide will become the only option low-income people can afford.
The cost of drugs for doctor-prescribed suicide is miniscule compared to the cost of providing treatment to make a patient more comfortable. This economic force of gravity is obvious and has already been experienced under our nation’s oldest assisted-suicide law in Oregon.


Not all families are supportive. Some patients will feel that they should request doctor-prescribed suicide so that they wouldn’t be a financial or emotional burden on their family.


Many families are under tremendous strain. At a time of rising food costs, home foreclosures and general economic uncertainty, it would be foolhardy to ignore the role that finances would play when making end-of-life decisions.


Even in families where there is support for a patient diagnosed with a terminal illness, patients could feel that they are being selfish for not sparing their family. This has been documented in Oregon as a reason for requesting a lethal prescription. According to Oregon’s latest (2016) official report, 40 percent of patients who died using that state’s assisted-suicide law did so to avoid being a burden on their family, friends or caregivers.
• Assisted suicide laws feature virtually no oversight, and data collection is grossly insufficient.
There is no investigation of abuse, nor even a way to report it. The states where assisted suicide is legal today do not report abuses and problems.

Assisted dying can cause inhumane deaths.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition


An article in the Daily Mail by Vanessa Chalmers titled - Assisted Dying can cause inhumane deaths examines the article, by Professor Jaideep Pandit, as reported in the British Medical Journal.

The article explains how death by assisted suicide is often inhumane. Chalmers reports:
Patients are usually given barbiturates – strong sedatives – which knock them out and eventually cause the lungs and heart to stop. 
But the report found complications including difficulty in swallowing the prescribed dose (up to nine per cent) and vomiting in 10 per cent, both of which can prevent proper dosing. 
Re-emergence from a coma occurred in two per cent of cases, with a small number of patients even sitting up during the dying process, the authors said. 
'This raises a concern that some deaths may be inhumane,' the researchers reported in the journal Anaesthesia. 
After oral sedative ingestion, patients usually lose consciousness within five minutes. However, death takes considerably longer.

Death occurs within 90 min in two thirds of cases.
 
But in a third of cases, death can take up to 30 hours, and some deaths took as many as seven days to occur (four per cent).
Another concern is that there is no single technique for doing assisted suicide.
'We expected that, since a common humane aim is to achieve unconsciousness at the point of death, which then occurs rapidly without pain or distress, there might be a single technique being used.

'However, the considerable [differences] in methods suggests that an optimum method of achieving unconsciousness remains undefined,' the review said.

'It is striking,' the authors said, 'that the incidence of "failure of unconsciousness" is approximately 190 times higher when it is intended that the patient is unconscious at the time of death, as when it is intended they later awaken and recover after surgery', which occurs approximately one in every 19,000.
We have always known that there are problems with assisted death techniques but the laws are designed to cover-up problems with the law. In every assisted death law the doctor who approves the death, is the same person who participates in the death, is the same person who reports the death. Problems with the law are covered-up by the self-reporting system.

Ontario man in "vegetative state" woke up.

Alex Schadenberg
Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

People who are diagnosed as being in a “vegetative state” (PVS) are often warehoused in institutions. After a period of time a decision is often made to withdraw all treatment including the withdrawal of fluids and food to dehydrate the person to death.

A few years ago I attended a European conference where presentations were made by physicians who operate medical treatment facilities to awaken patients through stimulation, known as awakening centers. The treatment stimulates the body to activate the brain and help it to heal.

The story of Juan Torres, from Oakville Ontario, is significant. Torres awakened from a PVS state and improved beyond expectations. 

Juan Torres with his parents.
An article by Kate Lunau published by MacLean's Magazine (December 31, 2015) tells the story:
“I don’t really know what happened,” Juan Torres, a 21-year-old from the Toronto suburb of Oakville, tells Maclean’s. “But, one day, I just woke up.” 

That Torres is speaking at all is astounding. Early one morning in July 2013, Torres, then 19, was discovered by his mother, face-down and unconscious on his bedroom floor, after choking on vomit in the night. He was left profoundly brain-damaged, and his doctors diagnosed him as vegetative: unable to speak, to eat, to deliberately control his movements, to follow basic commands. Vegetative patients retain their reflexes, and might grind their teeth or grimace; their eyes rove about the room but won’t fix on anything. They don’t demonstrate a glimmer of consciousness and can live that way for years, spending their days in hospitals, long-term-care facilities, or at home, unless families decide to end life support. The doctors who treated Torres didn’t think he’d be any different; they expected his status to be permanent, his mother says.
But Torres life changed:
Today—contrary to expectations—Torres is back home with his family. He gets around in a wheelchair; supported by his parents, he can take halting steps forward. In September, he started the general arts and science program at Oakville’s Sheridan College.

If all this wasn’t unexpected enough, there’s something else about Juan Torres that has left neuroscientists stunned. Not only did he recover, but he claims to remember what happened while he was clinically vegetative—and he has memories to prove it. In those hazy months before anyone knew he was aware, Torres says he remembers a doctor telling him to squeeze his hand, even though he couldn’t. He remembers being asked to “follow a tennis ball” with his eyes. Scientists have tested his memories, asking Torres to identify a set of faces and objects he encountered while technically “vegetative.” And he was able to do it. “I felt sad, because I couldn’t communicate with my family,” Torres says. He felt scared and “emasculated” at his inability to respond to the doctor’s cues and commands. For Torres, it was a nightmare. “I felt trapped in my own body,” he says. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t react.” It was like being half-asleep and frozen, he says, unable to respond.
Adrian Owen (center)
Adrian Owen, who researches communicating with people diagnosed as PVS considers Torres case as “mind-blowing”

“His case is mind-blowing,” says Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientist at Western University who has been investigating one of the most mysterious, least understood phenomena: human consciousness. It’s often said that the brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Torres’s case shows us how much we’ve yet to understand: the fact that he was creating memories suggests he wasn’t unconscious at all, despite his doctors’ best diagnosis. “It tells us there really was a person there,” Owen says, “and that person was experiencing the world.”

Vegetative patients have not been a high priority for researchers, some of whom doubtless see them as a “lost cause.” It’s hard even to say how many people live this way, or to compare their outcomes. The vegetative state can arise from all sorts of mishaps that lead to brain injury, from a car accident or stroke, to drowning, choking, a sports or military accident. There doesn’t seem to be much consensus on their treatment, either. ...
Owen believes that Torres case is unique, but the question is, how many people are misdiagnosed?
All neuroscientists, including Owen, agree that many—probably most—of the patients diagnosed as “vegetative” truly are so, with no hope of recovery. Certainly, the vast majority will never recover like Torres: there’s no doubt that this young man is an extraordinary case. “I’ve seen hundreds of patients over almost 20 years and he is completely unique,” Owen says. But the issue is, are we misdiagnosing a subset of patients as “vegetative,” and leaving these people to languish? It’s a chilling suggestion.
Torres tells Lunau: “Don’t count me out of the fight just because I’m in bed.” Lunau explains what happened to Torres:
Torres came home around midnight, chatted with his dad and ate some salad—his father didn’t notice anything unusual in his behaviour—before going to bed. Early the next morning, Perez awoke to strange noises coming from his room. At first she thought it was the dogs. She discovered her son lying on the floor in a puddle, in respiratory arrest. How long he’d gone without oxygen is impossible to say. She performed CPR, and her daughter, Laura, called 911. “At the hospital, they said, ‘Hold his hand, because he’s leaving us,’ ” Perez recalls. Her voice falters as she’s overcome by the memory. “They said he was going to die that day.”

The period that followed was devastating, a blur. Both Perez and her husband, Jorge Javier Torres, took several months off work, staying by their son’s hospital bed day and night. ...As the shock wore off, Perez and her husband started researching how to help Torres. “You cannot leave a boy that young,” Perez says. “Not alive, not dead; just lying there. Wouldn’t you try anything?”

They discovered hyperbaric oxygen therapy, in which patients breathe pure oxygen inside a pressurized chamber. HBOT, as it’s informally called, is offered at hospitals and clinics across Canada; it’s approved to treat a range of conditions, such as decompression sickness, air or gas embolism, and carbon monoxide poisoning, but not brain injury. ...

Juan Torres’s parents had no idea whether it would benefit him, but they were desperate to try anything. So they signed him out of the hospital in Oakville on a series of day passes—itself a tricky endeavour, given all the equipment supporting him, including a feeding tube, IV and catheter—and took him by special medical transport to regular HBOT sessions at a private clinic in nearby Mississauga, Ont. ...

Hyperbaric oxygen was just part of their regimen. Torres’s parents assembled a collection of items they’d use to stimulate him daily: flashcards with “colours, words, pictures of the dogs, pictures of family members,” Perez says. She’d rub sandpaper and feathers along his toes. She’d bring in coffee beans to waft under his nose. “I remember that,” Torres says, as his mother tells the story, “the smells, like lemon, mint and hot sauce.” (They used Tabasco.) Once in a while, family members were sure they saw him respond. “The doctors would say, ‘Yes, but it’s just a reflex,’ ” Perez recalls. “It was difficult to keep hope, because there were so many days when you don’t see any signs.”

About a month into their new reality, Juan Torres’s parents took him to a little garden outside the hospital to get some fresh air. He was in a portable hospital bed, unable to sit up. “We put him in the nice sun, and started to massage him,” Perez says. “I was talking about how white he was getting.” His fair complexion has always been a running joke with his family members, who call him Snow White. “We are all kind of tan, and he’s the only one with white skin,” Perez says. Torres was “unconscious,” she continues, but he started laughing along at the joke.

They immediately reported this to doctors, who, once again, deemed it a reflex. “I couldn’t believe it. We were talking, it wasn’t random,” says Perez. Even so, vegetative patients do show automatic responses that can confuse and alarm loved ones. It’s not unusual for family members to interpret these as signs of consciousness, when it could just be wishful thinking. “I started to wonder if I was seeing something that wasn’t there,” Perez says.
Researchers, working with Adrian Owen's became involved with Torres.
In late August, Laura Gonzalez-Lara, research coordinator with Adrian Owen’s lab at Western, travelled to Oakville to examine Juan Torres. She’d heard about the young man from a hospital worker involved in his treatment. “He came out completely vegetative,” she says. “There were no signs of awareness, beyond some reflexive behaviour. It was actually pretty low,” she adds, “even for our vegetative-state patients.” A month later, he was brought to London, Ont., for further assessment, including with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, which measures and maps brain activity. Although the fMRI tests were inconclusive (Torres moved too much in the scanner), “we assessed him [behaviourally] several times that week,” says Damian Cruse, a former research scientist in Owen’s lab who is now a lecturer in psychology at the University of Birmingham. “Every time, he fulfilled the criteria for vegetative state.”
The family didn't give up.
Not long after, on Thanksgiving, Torres’s family brought him home for a day visit, his first since leaving in an ambulance three months before. As his parents carefully wheeled him into the backyard, the family dogs, Yogi and Cindy, came bounding out to greet him. His father, somehow intuiting on behalf of his son, grabbed a dog whistle and stuck it between Torres’s lips. And Torres did what no one had thought possible: He started to blow.

Not long after, the team at Western phoned Perez. “As we were explaining the results,” Gonzalez-Lara says, telling Perez that tests indicated her son was clinically vegetative, “she told us, well, he just started talking.” Soon after Thanksgiving, Torres had begun mouthing words, then whispering. He gradually regained his voice. That November, he was discharged from hospital and sent to a rehabilitation centre.
Torres went back to London Ontario where they began to test his memory of being PVS.
In May 2014, six months after Torres started speaking, Owen and his team brought him back to the lab. “There was a fair amount of disbelief,” says Cruse. “Everyone agreed it would be a good idea to test his memory, but is he really going to remember the faces of people he met six months ago?”

They showed Torres photos of people he’d met on his initial visit, when he was still clinically vegetative, mixed in with photos of others who looked similar, but whom he’d never encountered. They did the same with objects, including two hand mirrors, one framed in red, the other in white. Torres correctly identified all five faces, and three of the four objects. (Findings will be published in a future scientific paper.) Seeing a photo of Laura Gonzalez-Lara, the research coordinator whom he’d met while vegetative, he said: “That’s Laura.” About another person, he said, “I recognize her nose.” And in still another example, he described the voice of a person he’d met as “deep and monotonous,” a description so bang-on, it made the others laugh.

Recovery among vegetative patients is so rare, But Owen's research does conclude that some people who are diagnosed as “vegetative” are not. The article states:

The more patients he scans, the more he discovers about the wide variety who are labelled “vegetative”—and the possibility that some aren’t vegetative at all. Shortly after being recruited to Western in 2010 (Owen holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in cognitive neuroscience and imaging), he met Scott Routley, who had been in a car accident 12 years before that left him in a vegetative state. In a brain scanner, Routley could answer “yes” and “no” by activating parts of his brain on command. Owen asked whether he was in pain, and Routley answered no, a first for any vegetative patient.

Juan Torres is another first. Whenever Owen discusses his work, he hears the same question. “Someone will put up his hand and say, ‘Do you have a patient who recovered and can tell you [what it was like]?’ ” Owen’s team has determined that one in five patients who appears to be vegetative retains some level of consciousness, which can’t be detected through standard clinical assessments. The number could go up, he argues, as detection methods improve—but even with a growing body of research, it remains controversial to claim consciousness among these patients. Some worry it could give families false hope, or cause feelings of guilt among those who do decide it’s best to end life support.
The article suggests that Torres's recovery is impossible to explain, except for the fact that the body stimulation that is done at awakening centers in Europe have a fairly successful recovery rate. I am not a scientist or a doctor, but it appears clear that the stimulation that the family did was likely what led to Torres's recovery. The article states:
Juan Torres’s recovery is impossible to explain, although his youth and physical strength must have helped. Medical reports on Torres’ rehabilitation, which Perez provided to Maclean’s, suggest that healthy parts of his brain may have been recruited to work on behalf of areas that were permanently damaged. Owen admits this is possible, but “his recovery was fairly swift for that to have been the case,” he says. “There’s not any clear neuroscientific explanation I can give.”

Torres says he feels pride at his recovery. “I learned a lot, actually,” he says. “I used to get mad. Now I’m more patient.” But a sense of loss hangs over him. A focused and determined young man—his recovery is no less a testament to his own resolve, and his family’s—his frustration can at times be palpable. His life has swerved down a path he never could have predicted. But he’s back in school. He’s playing sports, including wheelchair rugby. (He enjoys “the competition,” he smirks. “The violence.”) Torres spends spare hours making electronic music on a laptop at home. He dreams of becoming a platinum-selling record producer.

Every day, even now, Perez tells her son how grateful she is. The fact that Juan Torres was building memories as he lay in bed, by all accounts unconscious, is still a cause for marvel. “In a way, he was there,” Perez says, “even though he wasn’t. It’s like dying and coming back again.”
In 2004, after attending the European conference I stated that awakening centers need to be established in Canada. For those who are reading this article and have a family member who is PVS, try to stimulate the brain, as the family did for Torres. There is nothing to lose.

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