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LIFE DIGEST: Vegetative state diagnosis often wrong, study shows; Planned Parenthood sued in death of college student


WASHINGTON (BP)–New studies demonstrate that doctors should be extremely cautious about diagnosing patients as being in a vegetative state and in limiting their expectations of improvement.

Research teams from Belgium reported about 40 percent of patients they studied were misdiagnosed as in a vegetative state, when they actually should have been diagnosed as in a minimally conscious state, according to a June 20 report on News-Medical.Net, an online medical news service. Another Belgian team found about 25 percent of patients diagnosed in an acute vegetative state when they enter a hospital had a good opportunity to regain a considerable percentage of their faculties and as much as half would reacquire some level of consciousness.

A comparison with past studies demonstrated the incidence of misdiagnosis has not fallen in the last 15 years, News-Medical.Net reported.

The reports followed by two years the death of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who died of complications from dehydration. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, in a legal battle with Terri’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, gained a ruling from a Florida court to have her feeding tube disconnected. She had been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state and had been receiving nutrition and hydration through a tube since 1990, when she collapsed and suffered a brain injury.

Pro-life bioethics specialist Wesley Smith said the Belgian reports, first of all, “should give great pause to those who advocate not supplying or quickly removing life support for people with traumatic head injury.”

“Second, when family members claim that they detect signs of consciousness in their ‘unconscious’ love ones, doctors should be less quick to assert that they [family members] are merely seeing ‘what they want to see,'” Smith wrote on the bioethics.com weblog. He is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. “Third, people ought to consider this problem when determining in an advance medical directive to have themselves dehydrated to death if they become permanently incapacitated.

“Of course, what really needs to be done is to reject the notion that people with severe brain injuries are somehow less ‘human’ or are not ‘persons.’ Unless and until we do that, people in these devastated states will not be safe.”

Researchers presented their findings on the misdiagnosis study at the European Neurological Society meeting June 16-20 in Rhodes, Greece.

SUING PLANNED PARENTHOOD -– A malpractice lawsuit has been filed against Planned Parenthood in the death of a college student who began undergoing an abortion at a California affiliate of the national organization.

Edrica Goode, 21, a Riverside Community College student, died Feb. 14, two weeks after the first step in an abortion procedure was performed on her at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Riverside, Calif., The Los Angeles Times reported June 21. Aletheia Meloncon, Goode’s mother, filed the suit, charging the beginning of the procedure at the clinic caused an infection to spread and resulted in her death.

“My daughter made a choice, but she didn’t choose to die,” said Meloncon, who said her daughter did not tell her she was having an abortion. “A lost dog gets more attention than my daughter did. This has really torn at my family.”

At the Planned Parenthood clinic, dilators were inserted Jan. 31 to expand Goode’s cervix for a second-trimester abortion, the lawsuit said, according to The Times. The dilators, which are intended to remain in the body for only a day or two prior to the rest of the abortion procedure, caused a vaginal infection to spread throughout her body, leading to her death, according to the lawsuit. The clinic mailed two letters to Goode to tell her she needed to have the dilators removed, but Meloncon said the letters never arrived and Planned Parenthood should have acted more earnestly to contact her daughter.

Goode is the third Planned Parenthood patient to die in the last five years in California. Holly Patterson, 18, died in 2003 of a systemic infection after obtaining the abortion drug RU 486 from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Hayward, Calif. Diana Lopez, 25, of Huntington Park, died in 2002 after her cervix was punctured during an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic, The Times reported.

ABORTION RECORD IN BRITAIN –- More than 200,000 women underwent abortions last year in Great Britain, establishing an all-time high for the deadly procedure.

The 2006 total of 201,173 abortions in England and Wales marked an increase of nearly 4 percent over the previous year, according to the Evening Standard, a London newspaper.

Nearly 4,000 abortions were performed on girls under 16 years old, the legal age of sexual consent. The statistics, released by the Department of Health, showed nearly 2 percent of women between 15 and 44 years of age had abortions, the newspaper reported.

Great Britain permits abortions until the 24th week of gestation. Exceptions are made after that week when the mother’s life is endangered or there is a substantial risk that the child has a serious impairment, according to the Evening Standard. Last year, 136 abortions were recorded at 24 weeks or older.
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