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LETTER : Sign of hope for disabled people

Sir: The recovery of Andrew Devine from the ill-named "permanent vegetative state" (report, 26 March) is a victory for hope, and powerful testimony against the defeatism of those who regard PVS as a "living death" and sufficient reason to bring about death by starvation.

Perhaps people will begin to question the common assumption that severely disabled people are "better off dead" and the iniquitous resort to proclaiming "quality of life" as the final arbiter of who should live and who should die.

The prevalent view that disabled people's lives are worthless applies from pre-birth (abortion is legal up to birth if the baby has a disability) to adulthood. Anyone who listened to those affected would discover that we value our lives, however limited they may be. This is not only the case for those like me with congenital physical disabilities, but also for those like Andrew Devine who are recovering from the most profound disabilities of all. Geoff Wildsmith, thought to be in PVS for over a year, is now able to communicate by buzzer, and has signalled firmly that he is glad to be alive.

It is a pity that Dr Keith Andrews ("Flicker of hope from brain damage victim astonishes doctors", 27 March) seems to be suggesting that as recovery is rare, it is not worth keeping "9,999" alive for the sake of one who may recover. This misses not only the infinite value of those 9,999 regardless of whether or not they also may eventually recover, but also the anguish of being put to death while able to suffer the pain of hunger and thirst.

The real question is the value we put on disabled lives, and whether we think people who are less than fully able nevertheless have the right to live their lives. We do not have a choice between being able bodied and being disabled; we have a choice only between being disabled and being dead, and of those two options the former is most definitely to be preferred.


Blandford Forum, Dorset