End of life… or not?

Tuesday 22nd October 2019

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Fans of Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ may well have heard neuroscientist Adrian Owen recently discussing his research on patients in vegetative states and the impact this may have on end of life issues. Through technology such as MRI scans, Adrian has found that, contrary to popular belief, a proportion of people in vegetative states do have an awareness of what is going on around them. These patients are sometimes described as being in a ‘grey zone’. The consequences of this research for end of life issues are potentially huge.

As things stand, people often hold strong views about what should happen to them should they end up in a vegetative state. These people are often advised to complete Advance Directives detailing their refusal to accept treatment and in what circumstances. However, by their very nature, these documents are completed before the person finds themselves in a vegetative state and, as such, may not represent the views of that person once they find themselves in a ‘grey zone’ as described above. Adrian’s research and that of his colleague showed that, for many patients, life in this ‘grey zone’ was not as bad as it was imagined to be. However, Adrian did explain that results were inconclusive when he asked one patient the direct question ‘Do you want to die?’, suggesting that more still needs to be done to establish views with certainty.

The impact of this research could be significant and as technology continues to advance, more about this condition will be known and the law may well need to change to reflect this. It is certainly an area of interest for all as ending up in a vegetative state is something that could and does happen to any one of us regardless of age or circumstance.

For a discussion of end of life issues as things stand today, our End of Life Decisions webinar provides an informative look at the topic.

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