Medical/Technical My Family Science & Technology Social

Questionable State of the Unconscious Mind

I recall clearly the first time I heard of anyone withholding food and water from a critically ill patient. The incident came through a family in one of the churches Jerry pastored, where a quite elderly parent was critically ill and not expected to live. Although I did not say anything, for it would have been inappropriate for me to do so, I was horrified. That the basic necessities of food and water would be withheld from anyone, I believed to be wrong then, and continue with that thought to this moment.

Now comes this astonishing development, reported yesterday, in which a woman who has been in a vegetative state for five months could clearly hear what others said, and while she could not physically move, her brain waves were consistent with those who understood such commands.

Woman in coma plays tennis


Friday, 8 September 2006


Brain scans of a woman who has been in a vegetative state for five months show her imagining playing tennis and responding to commands, researchers report.

They say their study, published today in the journal Science, shows the woman was conscious despite her coma-like state, although several experts disagree. Read more here.

Such issues strike a vulnerable spot in me, for when Jerry was struck down by a drunk driver, and was severely injured, the doctors intimated that we should consider how long we would keep him on life support. It is the epitome of grace and mercy that Jerry recovered and we did not have to entertain such thoughts.

Although I can’t imagine being able to do it, I have no quarrel with those who elect to remove their loved ones from life support, when there seems to be no hope. But to withhold the basic ingredients of life—food and water—I am in total disagreement from allowing such a thing. I understand that is not the issue here, but these new findings confirm my thoughts that no unconscious person should have food and water denied.

By Shirley Buxton

Still full of life and ready to be on the move, Shirley at 81 years old feels blessed to have lots of energy and to be full of optimism. She was married to Jerry for 64 years, and grieves yet at his death in August of 2019. They have 4 children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren...all beautiful and highly intelligent--of course. :)

17 replies on “Questionable State of the Unconscious Mind”

My apologies, I thought you were referring to someone who’s death was considered immanent, since you wrote the story of the person who was “critically ill and not expected to live” I believe firmly that these cases should be throughly distinguished.


It is extremely sad, Jayleigh. I certainly agree: there is a time to let a person die. Death is a strange thing to us, not completely understood, but it truly is a natural part of “living.”

Have a blessed Sunday.


I know a man… his family used to attend my church… and he’s been in a coma since November 2002. His kids were then in High School and parents were going to get a divorce.

Since the wife felt awkward about pulling the life support plug (NOT food and water) plug within a week after the accident BECAUSE of the impending divorce, she asked his parents what they would have done.

Obviously, the parents have left him in this vegetative state for 4 years. He has the approximate look of Terry Schaivo, because his muscles have atrophied and something weird happens to the teeth and gums when they are never used, so there’s an odd look about him to say the least.

John, the eldest child of this man has gone to court to gain guardianship of his father. He doesn’t want to remove the food and water from his dad, only antibiotics and other “emergency” meds. He had a DNR (do not resuscitate) order put on his father, because after 4 years, there needs to be some closure for John and his sister.

The sister is graduating from college this next year and will go to law school afterward, so that if her father is still alive in a coma when she gets out, she can better know how to fight against what’s happening.

It seems members of their father’s family have paid staff at the nursing home under the table, so they would give the patient anti-biotiocs and take extraordinary measures to keep him from dying naturally.

While I agree 100% with not taking food away from a patient, there must be some point where the body can rest and the family can be at peace. Had the wife agreed (without asking anyone else) to remove his life support within 12 days of the accident, he’d have been gone a very long time ago. It’s all so sad.


I agree than purposely withholding food and water to cause dead is wrong. It is different if the person is concious and can make their own decisions. Food and water are not what I would consider life support and I’ve made it clear to my family that under no circumstances do I want to dehydrate or stasrve to death! If I’m 90 and on life support, it has been weeks and I have no brain waves, that is a much different circumstance.


Holly, Tana and Helen. I believe I agree with most everything that has been said, and yes, Tana, I know it is faulty to present such concept in a black and white manner. I’m not talking about forcing food and water on a person that would in effect cause that person’s death. I am referring to such a situation as Terry Schiavo where as Holly pointed out, “removing food and water caused her to die.” I believe that to be wrong.

Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinions and give additional information.


What tana is saying is absolutely correct. There comes a time in the process of dying when the body can no longer handle food or water. IF the dying person is able to communicate they will tell you they feel no hunger or thirst. This is part of the body’s process of shutting down. Those of us who are alive and well can not imagine going without either, but this is a “natural” part of the process of death. It’s not comfortable for us to watch, but it makes death much more comfortable for the dying person.

This is entirely different from a situation like Terry Schiavo where removing food and water caused her to die.


I have taken care of many, many, many people who were critically ill and decisions on whether they are given food and water need to be made. In many cases, the decision can be made ahead of time. If this is something that concerns you, perhaps you should consider making such a decision ahead of time. It certainly clarifies this decision for family and healthcare professionals when this is decided previously.

I find it disconcerting that it is discussed as such a clear, black and white issue. Many people who are critically ill *could die* from taking food and water in their last days, as some are incapable of swallowing. Some people are critically ill, and refuse such things. I have seen both cases. I have also seen families who are so desperate to keep loved ones alive, that they request nasal or throat tubes to be inserted, even though this can severely rip up the esophagus, cause throat and nasal passages to become dry, and possibly play host to infection.

All people who I have worked with, who have been chronically ill or palliative patients, who have been restricted of food and water, have been given medication to block any pain.

Is it playing god? I don’t know. Is it OK to watch someone knowing they will soon die and insist that they eat and take water, when they don’t want to or can’t, in order to make *us* feel better? Absolutely not.


Situations like this can break your heart. Should we “keep” someone alive or allow one to die? In some ways, either can be “playing God.” It is not always clear which is taking place. This is not about right and wrong, it’s about doing the best you can under dreadful circumstances while you watch a loved one suffer and sometimes mercifully)die. And once is a while, God sends a miracle. Yet we know “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s