The faulty diagnosis trap

Darwin meteorologist Tani Cruz says it is a miracle his wife woke up after being in a coma for two week /  Northern Territory NewsAn incredible story reported in this week's press underscores yet again why we never should legalise euthanasia. It is in fact a bittersweet story, because it could have ended up with such a horrible outcome. Instead it was a delightful and joyous outcome. The story concerns an Australian woman who was reported to be brain dead, and was about to go six feet under, were it not for the intervention of her concerned husband. Here is how the story goes:

“A woman who was diagnosed as being brain dead has recovered three days after her husband begged doctors to put in a breathing tube before switching off a ventilator at an Australian hospital, the Northern Territory News reported Wednesday.

“Gloria Cruz, 56, underwent brain surgery after a tumor was discovered when she suffered a stroke on March 7 and was rushed to the Royal Darwin Hospital in Darwin, Northern Territory. Doctors told her husband Tani Cruz, 51, the case was ‘hopeless’ and she would probably die within 48 hours following the surgery.

“After two weeks, a breathing tube was inserted in Mrs Cruz's mouth and the ventilator was turned off. Hospital staff were stunned when she woke from her coma three days later. When a doctor recommended that the ventilator be removed and Gloria Cruz be allowed to die, her husband told them, ‘I'm a Catholic - I believe in miracles. I told him that God knows how much I love her - that I don't want her to suffer but I don't want her to leave us,’ he said.

“A doctor described her recovery as ‘a miracle.’ Mrs Cruz is now alert and getting around in a wheelchair at the hospital. ‘She's well on the way to recovery,’ her husband said.”

What an amazing story. Yet it is not a unique story. Quite often we read in the press of similar situations occurring. Despite the assured word of medical specialists, often they are proved to be wrong, or at least premature, in their assessments.

What we have here is the problem of faulty diagnosis and predictions. To terminate a patient’s life, a doctor must have pretty good assurance of his diagnosis/prognosis. But the truth is, surveys have found that one-half of responding physicians said they were not confident to predict that a patient had less than six months to live.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that there is an astonishing level of misdiagnosis of persistent vegetative state. The study of 80 patients supposedly in a deep and presumably irreversible form of coma found that three-quarters of them had been misdiagnosed. Many of the patients had either woken up spontaneously or had shown signs of brain activity.

One study found that eleven patients admitted to a New York hospital who were diagnosed as having “advanced cancer in its terminal stages” did not have cancer at all. Indeed, as one doctor put it, “Significant numbers [of patients] have been told by doctors that they have only months to live, and have lived on, often with a good quality of life, for many years. As with capital punishment, if you get it wrong, it’s too late!”

Examples are common. Doctors at a Sydney hospital decided that a man who lapsed into a coma after a drug overdose would be better off dead, claiming he had irreversible brain damage. His sister intervened, and with the help of a NSW Supreme Court judge, managed to prevent the hospital from shutting down his life support. Four weeks later the man was smiling, and kissing loved ones. A Queensland grandmother, ill with bowel cancer, who had demanded the right to die, has now gone into remission, and is living a healthy and happy life.

Surgeon C. Everett Koop speaks about “how difficult predictions might be”. He speaks about one woman “with myasthenia gravis who lived ‘artificially’ for 652 days in intensive care and then made a remarkable recovery. Said a hospital [staffer], ‘She made us recognize that there was no such thing as an inordinate effort. She had such a tenacity for life we felt that everything we did, no matter how extraordinary, was appropriate to the situation’.”

One man from Arkansas who was barely conscious for twenty years because of a severe brain injury recently stunned doctors by regaining speech and movement. It seems his brain rewired itself. And an English woman in a vegetative state after a car accident has amazed doctors by responding to voices.  

Wesley Smith also offers some examples. Let me share one of them: “In Los Angeles, Maria Lidia Lopez, six months pregnant, collapsed from a blood vessel disorder in the brain and entered a coma. After only three weeks waiting for her to awaken, doctors declared that her brain was so injured that she could not survive. All life support was about to be discontinued, which would have caused not only her own death, but that of her twin unborn children – but Maria awakened, and slowly improved to the point that the doctors were able to deliver her two healthy babies by Caesarian section.”

More recently a Texas man who was declared to be brain dead was on the verge of having his organs removed for transplant. As family members were saying their final goodbyes, the man’s hand and foot moved. After a period in hospital, the man is now recovering at home. Amazingly, he recalls doctors pronouncing him brain dead while in hospital.

The story is the same at the other end of life. For example, a faulty prognosis about unborn twins was recently made. A mother was told by a specialist that her twins were deformed with abnormalities and would not survive. The mother did not heed her doctor’s advice to get an abortion, but instead gave birth to two perfectly healthy daughters.

With such a high range of faulty or uncertain assessments of a patient’s condition and likelihood of survival, it would surely be folly to legalise euthanasia. Add this to a number of other compelling reasons why we should not head down this path, and we have a very strong case indeed to resist the death merchants and their gruesome agenda.


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