The Twilight Zone Of Consciousness

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MATT MAY/GETTY IMAGES

RECOGNITION OR JUST REFLEX? Schiavo appears to gaze at her mother

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Giacino was the lead author of a landmark 2002 paper that defined a condition known as the "minimally conscious state." Minimally conscious patients are more responsive to the world than vegetative patients and, significantly, retain the potential to become fully conscious. The famous 1996 case of the "coma cop" involved a police officer who was almost certainly minimally conscious and briefly recovered consciousness after seven years. Schiavo's parents tried but failed to establish that this was their daughter's condition.

Without a feeding tube, Schiavo could live about 10 days. Death will come from dehydration, not starvation. While no one can say what she will feel, a recent survey of nurses caring for dying patients rated this a peaceful and good way to die. Her parents still hope for a miracle. Last Wednesday a priest touched Schiavo with a bit of cloth that had once touched Mother Teresa.

Doctors, lawyers and ethicists witnessing the malignity of the Schiavo case believe there is a lesson in it for everyone. "We all have an obligation to tell our loved ones what we would want done," says Fins. Schiavo was only 26 when disaster struck; Cruzan was a year younger. Quinlan was just 21. Says Fins: "You can be sure that one wish Terri Schiavo would have had is that her family wouldn't have fallen into this dispute at a time when she can't speak for herself."

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