In the United Kingdom, Nikkie Kenward spoke out against a terrifying anti-Life ruling that allows family members and hospitals to kill brain-injured patients without court intervention. Writing in the Daily Mail, Kenward condemned the disturbing decision. Following this ruling, in the event family members or hospital administrators decide to prematurely end the patient’s life, they can withhold nutrition and hydration, starving and dehydrating the patient to death with no one speaking in court on behalf of the patient’s Right to Life.
The move has inevitably been hailed by the so-called ‘Assisted Dying’ lobby as a triumph of compassion that will help to end the suffering of people trapped in ‘living deaths’. But to my mind there is nothing humane about the Supreme Court’s judgment.
The author speaks from firsthand experience when she describes the fragility of life in a so-called “vegetative state.” For Kenward this state was not a hypothetical “living death” but the real course of living her life. Decades ago, Kenward thought she had come down with the flu, but what she had actually contracted was a devastating viral infection that causes a form of paralysis. She says, “I found myself suddenly locked into agonising immobility, with my whole body paralysed except for my right eyelid.”
Within a single day, Kenward went from healthy to totally incapacitated, unable to breathe without the assistance of a ventilator and unable to communicate. She writes, “Yet throughout, I was still conscious and could hear voices and feel agonising pain in my body.” Kenward spent five months appearing uncommunicative. After six months she was able to return home, but she could not perform simple tasks like picking up a cup of tea for another two years. Today, Kenward is still confined to a wheelchair. She says her handicap is not as much of an obstacle as the attitudes toward people with disabilities as a burden on society, an attitude she says is encouraged by the rhetoric of the assisted suicide lobby.
Court decisions like the one that prompted Kenward to write are not mere abstractions; they threaten real human lives. As Kenward observes, “If the Supreme Court decision had been made before I went through my terrifying ordeal, it could have been me that faced death by dehydration and starvation.” Kenward is not the only person to experience temporary, severe incapacity who went on to recover and remember the entire experience. The Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network has compiled many stories of patients who have recovered against immense odds.
Kenward gets to the heart of the issue when she writes, “The assisted dying brigade talk [sic] about ‘dignity in death’, but what could be more cruel that [sic] starving a person who is still conscious of nourishment and water. It is a terrible way to go; a form of slow torture.” In her letter, Kenward refers to recent studies showing that brain-injured patients can communicate when researchers map their brain activity with an MRI in response to “yes” or “no” questions. These studies should give any anti-Life activist pause to consider just how “dignified” the death they propose for uncommunicative patients would be. As Kenward writes, “All human life should be valued, no matter how bleak the circumstances might appear.”
Sadly, current Texas law does not protect all such vulnerable patients much better than the UK. Under the anti-Life 10-Day Law, Texas gives hospitals power over life and death decisions for vulnerable patients. Only in the past four years, Pro-Life legislators succeeded in passing legislation to make the agonizing death by dehydration and starvation that Kenward condemns illegal. Such was the first step in a long road to reforming Texas law to protect all innocent human Life.