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Research and patients in a permanent vegetative state
  1. H Draper
  1. Correspondence to:
 H Draper
 Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Department of Primary Care and General Practice, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK; h.draper{at}

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The argument that a permanent vegetative state (PVS) equates to death because it marks the death of the person is not a new one, but I wonder whether Ravelingien et al1 need to regard those in a PVS as dead to make a case for animal to human transplantation trials taking place in such people. It is not an argument likely to convince anyone who refuses to accept that only human persons have inherent value, dignity or a right to life, and the arguments on both sides have been well rehearsed, with no sign of reconciliation. My own view is that people in a PVS are still alive, albeit with a poor quality of life. I see no objection in principle to the proposal that competent people can decide, in advance, to participate in research when they become incompetent. At the present time, it is generally accepted that an advance refusal of consent should be respected. Some controversy exists on whether someone can insist on treatment in advance, but in Ravelingien et al’s1 paper, what is being proposed is not that people can insist on becoming research participants, but rather that they can signal a willingness to become such a participant in the future. Indeed, this principle can be extended to competent people such as those with early …

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  • Competing interests: None.