How do we understand PVS, persistent vegetative state? One researcher finds that people in these states are deader than dead
Deader than dead: people in vegetative states are viewed as deader than corpses
In 1990, Terri Schiavo suffered a heart attack that left her in a persistent vegetative state. She came out of her coma but severe brain damage left her unresponsive with no detectable brain activity. Trapped in a state of “wakeful unconsciousness”, her condition triggered a lengthy legal battle between her husband, who wanted to end her life support, and her parents, who wanted to keep her alive. The debate over Schiavo’s moral rights raged for the better part of a decade, and the arguments were filled with people who claimed that her condition was a “fate worse than death”.
The phrase reflects a curious tendency to view people in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) as being deader than dead. Kurt Gray from the University of Maryland has found that people, especially religious ones, tend to think of PVS patients as having less mental capacity than a corpse.
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Gray argues that while people tend to see dead people as disembodied minds, they see people in a PVS as mindless corpses. As he writes, “These results suggest that for vegetative patients, life or death may depend more upon the mind of person making the decision than the mind of the patient.”