According to a recent study by the Mind Perception and Morality Lab at the University of Maryland, people view patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) as worse off than patients who have died. Published online in Cognition (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027711001752), the study consisted of three experiments. Here is the Abstract:
“Patients in persistent vegetative state (PVS) may be biologically alive, but these experiments indicate that people see PVS as a state curiously more dead than dead. Experiment 1 found that PVS patients were perceived to have less mental capacity than the dead. Experiment 2 explained this effect as an outgrowth of afterlife beliefs, and the tendency to focus on the bodies of PVS patients at the expense of their minds. Experiment 3 found that PVS is also perceived as “worse” than death: people deem early death better than being in PVS. These studies suggest that people perceive the minds of PVS patients as less valuable than those of the dead – ironically, this effect is especially robust for those high in religiosity.”
The complex views of PVS illuminated in this study further illustrate the importance for clients to be clear in advance about their medical wishes and to not assume that others will be able to infer what they would want. It also speaks to the possibility that people may hold simultaneously conflicting views about PVS when making decisions on behalf of a loved one in a persistent vegetative state.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank, the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the healthcare directives of its 190,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. She is active in health policy pertaining to advance directives and serves as a Senior Fellow at the Jefferson School of Population Health in Philadelphia. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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