Be Kind to "Vegetables"

David C. Reardon
March 7, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Jackie lies motionless, incapable of smiling, or crying, or responding to a gentle touch. She is seemingly dead to all that is around her. Her doctor has diagnosed her as being in an irreversible "persistent vegetative state" (PVS). She is only a "vegetable."

Yet she breathes. She sleeps. She can swallow spoon-fed meals of broth and nutrient "shakes." She may live for thirty years like this. Never laughing. Never crying.

She is a "vegetable." But she is also a mother. Her children mourn for her. They want her with them, but not like this. Someone suggests that by withholding food and water they would simply be letting nature take its course. Certainly she would not want to live like this. It would be an act of charity to let her die, they say.

On the other hand, when is the last time you did something charitable for a carrot? A vegetable cannot suffer. So how can death put a vegetable out of its misery?

If she is human enough to suffer, then clearly she is a person, not a "vegetable," and she deserves all the love, care, and respect due all persons. Even like this, she has still been created in the image of God. Are we too blind to recognize anything God-like in her passive silence? Her patient endurance? Her calm acceptance of an undisclosed, divine Will?

By withholding food and water, Jackie, like anyone else, will die.