Tuesday, May 18, 2010

PVS Patients and Gender.

The curious case of Gary Harvey was covered in a long report at World News Daily yesterday. The title, "Another Terri Schiavo," seems to focus not on Gary but his sad and desperate wife, Sara, who has taken on the Catholic Hospital where Gary was being cared for. Her guardianship of her husband has been revoked and her visiting hours are limited. As the story notes, all of these actions are difficult to understand but it seems that Sara is fighting to take Gary home to care for him. The Schindler family, Terri Schiavo's family, are assisting Sara in her fight to retain Gary's feeding tube indefinitely.

The story has all the trappings of a difficult end of life scenario: a sudden collapse, resuscitation that recovered breathing and heard beat but not brain function, adult estranged children from prior marriages, conflict between the hospital and family members regarding proper care of a PVS patient, the Catholic church, do not resuscitate orders, money, absence of end of life planning, and contested definitions of death. The variables are that the Catholic church has been challenged with not honoring the sanctity of life and the sex of the PVS patient.

The cases of three persistent vegetative state (PVS) patients brought the diagnosis -- and the need for better laws and definitions of futile care -- to the public's attention: Karen Ann Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and Terri Schiavo. Though there are roughly 30,000 PVS patients in the country at any given time, the stories of these three young women -- struck down in their youth, their high school photos plastered on the nightly news, their choice of medical care in such a situation undetermined -- have been stories that stoked enormous public controversies over the past 30 years. It's curious that the emphasis of the recent case in upstate New York focuses on the wife.

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