Our quality of life is extremely important to all of us. However, for those millions that are effected by brain stem injuries, their happiness is often debated. In recent positive findings though, “locked-in syndrome” patients say they are happy, and many of the factors reported by those who say they are unhappy can be improved upon, thus changing the perception that these patients can no longer enjoy quality of life and are candidates for euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Locked-in syndrome describes a condition in which a person is fully conscious, but cannot move or communicate, save through eye movements or blinking. The syndrome is caused by brain stem injury, and those affected can survive for decades.

Brain stem injury is a very fatal health condition that can change one’s memory, paralyze or change one’s personality. The treatment required for brain stem injury is very expensive and causes serious life-long hardship to the family of the affected person along with emotional and psychological problems. It surely makes life tragic, and hence, a victim who has suffered a brain stem injury due to the negligence of another person is entitled to monetary compensation.

Dealing with brain stem injury is very difficult. Brain stem is very susceptible to injury, since it is present at rear part of our neck. It is estimated that every year almost two million brain stem injuries occur and very few cases recover from the injury.

Injury to the brain stem can lead to permanent damage, since the brain stem regulates almost all the daily activities of our body. Basic body functions like breathing and heartbeat can get disrupted, due to a brain stem injury. Thus, brain stem injury is a very severe health problem. Any damage to the brain can be directly related to an injury to the brain stem and hence, the symptoms are alike. Trauma or swelling in the brain are common causes of brain stem injury. When brain swells due to some reason, it leads to the compression of the brain stem which is then injured.

Ecological economist Robert Costanza comments:

“While Quality of Life has long been an explicit or implicit policy goal, adequate definition and measurement have been elusive. Diverse “objective” and “subjective” indicators across a range of disciplines and scales, and recent work on subjective well-being surveys and the psychology of happiness have spurred renewed interest.”

Of those patients questioned about their medical history, emotional state and views on end of life issues, 72% in all said they were happy overall.

For those that reported to be unhappy, depression, suicidal thoughts, and a desire not to be resuscitated, should the need arise, or for euthanasia were more common.

Over 50% of the respondents acknowledged severe restrictions on their ability to reintegrate back into the community and lead a normal life and only one in five were able to partake in everyday activities they considered important.

Seven percent said they would opt for euthanasia if given the opportunity.

The study’s authors conclude:

“Our data show that, whatever the physical devastation and mental distress of [these] patients during the acute phase of the condition, optimal life sustaining care and revalidation can have major long term benefit. We suggest that patients recently struck by [the syndrome] should be informed that, given proper care, they have a considerable chance of regaining a happy life. In our view, shortening of life requests … are valid only when the patients have been give a chance to attain a steady state of subjective wellbeing.”

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.