Family Experiences of Vegetative and Minimally Conscious States

Messages to the media

Most media representations of long term ‘coma’ are very unrealistic and this can leave people ill-equipped to understand their relative’s condition or the likely outcome. It can mean they are making decisions on the basis of misinformation and myths rather than on the facts as they apply to their relative. The people we spoke to also often felt that widespread media misrepresentations meant that friends and colleagues thought they ‘knew’ about comas, but did not understand what they were going through or how to offer support. 

In particular, families’ experience of their relatives’ ‘awakening’ (if any) was very different from what they saw on the media and (with a couple of exceptions) the patient’s appearance was very unlike the ‘sleeping beauty’ image shown by the media. Rose described her relative’s ‘look of panic’ when being suctioned and says: ‘it would be different if that patient wasn’t suffering. If it was like you see in the films and they was just laying there all nice you know, asleep looking, calm, nice, no choking, no fits’ and Margaret commented: ‘I always thought that if people were in a coma they were lying as if asleep. It’s not like that’ she was shocked to see how her relative ‘became increasingly more contorted every single time I went to see her, and that was horrible’. Families were concerned about the ‘romanticising’ of coma and its use as a cheap plot device or object of humour. They wanted more realism in representations of this most catastrophic of all health conditions. In this short compilation of clips, family members reflect on media representation of coma – collectively conveying a clear message to journalists and scriptwriters.

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