Despite previous comments on medical treatment, paralyzed man really wanted to live

07 15 2010 Menon Prof. David Menon, who provided medical care for Richard Rudd.

A paralyzed man in England who had once said he would never want to be kept alive were he severely disabled narrowly escaped death when doctors were about to withdraw treatment. Though previously unresponsive and in a “very bleak” condition, he communicated that he wanted to continue to live.

Richard Rudd was paralyzed and brain damaged after being injured in a motorcycle accident last October and suffering subsequent medical complications. Treated in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England his family thought they knew he would not want to live.

“We said that knowing Richard, there was no way in a million years that he would want to live with his injuries,” his father told the Daily Telegraph. Rudd had told his daughter that if he suffered a severe injury in an accident like a car crash, he “wouldn’t want to go on,” Rudd’s father reported.

Rudd’s father gave permission for treatment to be withdrawn. As hospital staff gathered around Rudd’s bed, they noticed he was able to blink his eyes for the first time in several weeks.

The doctors asked Rudd three times whether he wanted to continue to live. He blinked “yes” in reply to each of their three questions.

“… his doctor asked him three times if he wished treatment to continue, and each time he moved his eyes to the left, the signal for 'yes’,” Rudd’s father reported.

Rudd was not “brain dead” but had been aware of his situation, the Telegraph reported. In his October 23 accident, a car pulled in front of his motorcycle and the collision threw him 20 feet into a ditch. He could still talk and move his arms immediately after the crash, but after complications in surgery he was brain damaged and completely paralyzed.

“He had severe injuries to his brain and we could not communicate with him. The outcome was thought to be very bleak indeed,” Prof. David Menon, who was in charge of Rudd’s care, told the Telegraph.

“In fact, Richard was in a locked in state where people have relatively normal cognitive processes in the brain but are only able to allow you to know about that by movement of the eyes or eyelids,” he continued, saying “everything changed” when Rudd showed voluntary eye movement.

Though Rudd will require round-the-clock medical care for the rest of his life, he hopes to learn to communicate using his tongue, eyes and facial muscles.

Rudd has two daughters, 18-year-old Charlotte and 14-year-old Bethan.

“His daughters are certainly glad that he's alive. They joke around in front of him, he smiles and that lifts him for ages,” Rudd’s father said. He added that Rudd’s long-term memory is intact and he can make facial expressions, “but physically he’s gone.”

“It might not be the same Richard that we started out with, but at least he's still coping because he still smiles when we talk about the past or when he sees his children.”

Rudd’s father said he was glad his son has been given “the chance to survive and to have a say.”

The Christian Institute, based in the U.K., noted that Rudd’s story is echoed in many other severely ill or disabled people who thought they wanted to die but changed their minds.

Citing David Jeffrey’s book “Against Physician Assisted Suicide,” the institute recounted the story of a former army instructor who was being treated for terminal cancer and was determined to commit suicide.

After a discussion with the doctor, it was found that he missed the army. He was subsequently taken to watch a parade of young recruits, where a party had been arranged in his honor.

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“His life was transformed,” Jeffrey said, according to The Christian Institute. “He had a purpose and his demeanor completely changed. He died two weeks later, comfortably. People’s lives always have that potential. Even in the midst of suffering there can be change.

“You just don’t know what will happen.”

Alison Davis, national coordinator of the group No Less Human, was born with severe spina bifida and is dependent on a wheelchair. Often in extreme pain for hours at a time, for many years she wanted to commit suicide.

“If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now,” she has remarked, according to The Christian Institute.

After several suicide attempts were stopped by her friends, she began to change her mind. She met with disabled children she had been sponsoring through a charity, an experience which led her to think “I want to live.”

“I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life (though I wasn’t at the time). And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die,” Davis said. She now believes that disabled people deserve “the same kind of help routinely given” to those who feel suicidal but do not have a physical condition.

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