Coma victim's mother attacks testing plan

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The Independent Online
The mother of a coma victim yesterday attacked suggestions that such patients should be used for experiments in place of animals and said she would rather kill her own son.

Violet Brayson, 34, a mother of seven from Ladywood, Birmingham, has just marked the 20th birthday of her son Robert. She and her husband, Ron, have cared for their eldest son 24 hours a day after he was found hanging in a young offenders' institution 18 months ago.

Since then the Braysons have taken their son home from hospital to care for him themselves. Mrs Brayson, who says she is hopeful that Robert may one day snap out of his apparently irreversible coma, said she would rather kill her sonthan see him used for experiments.

She said Professor David Morton's suggestions to use people in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) for experiments were "criminal". "I would rather kill my son than see him taken away for experiments. I am absolutely horrified because this is such an inhumane suggestion.

Professor Morton, professor of bio-ethics and veterinary science at Birmingham University, told a seminar on the ethics of animal experimentation that experiments on people in a permanent vegetative state would give more accurate results than those on chimpanzees and would reduce the number of animal experiments carried out.

Professor Morton explained yesterday he had not advocated the use of tissues from human beings unless the decision had been made to withdraw food and water and the patient had made a will saying they would like their tissues and organs to be used for research as well as organ transplant. The professor, who lives in Leicestershire, said he was outraged at reports which had taken his suggestion out of context.

"What I said was that the medical profession may soon be faced with people who have left their body's tissues and organs for research. Various animal welfare organisations are now circulating a donation card where people can leave their tissues and organs for research as well as for organ transplantation. So if something tragic happens to them and if it is decided these people are so permanently damaged that is irreversible and they have decided to withdraw food and water these people will have made an advance directive or living will to say they wish their tissue to be used for research."

There are an estimated 1,500 PVS patients in the United Kingdom at present.

Mrs Brayson said, "My son can still feel pain and I would hate him to be hurt in any way. The doctors don't consider anyone else's feelings and they are talking about people's loved ones. He is saying he wants to test people like my son for experiments."

"I don't even believe in testing on live animals so how could I agree with it on my own son."

Professor Morton said that at present after drugs were tested on animals they still had to be tested on human volunteers.

"Occasionally, twice in the past 10 years, something has gone wrong and these people may die. One might argue therefore that it would be better and do less harm if you did some of this work on people from whom we have decided to withdraw food and water instead of on healthy human volunteers."