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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sheffield Soccer Victim Awakens

LONDON -- The awakening of a 30-year-old man from eight years in a persistent vegetative state Wednesday threatened to reopen Britain's thorny right-to-die debate.


Andrew Devine, crushed in the horrific Hillsborough soccer stadium disaster that killed 95 panicking fans in 1989, on Tuesday showed signs of cognitive response, communicating by pressing a button, his family's lawyer said.


Devine's family had always refused the entreaties of medical personnel to remove the artificial feeding tube that kept him alive despite the severe cerebral lesions that had apparently had stopped his brain from functioning.


Devine, cared for at his family's Liverpool area home, but for a few months in the hospital, now "has some recognized cognition and is aware of what's going on around him," said the lawyer, Robin Makin.


"He communicates by pressing a touch-sensitive switch -- one for yes, two for no."


The Devine case bears strong similarities to that of Tony Bland, a young man injured in the same Sheffield stadium disaster and in a persistent vegetative state, PVS, who was allowed to die in 1993 after a landmark decision by the House of Lords.


The Lords made clear, however, that all future right-to-die decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.


At that time, Stanley and Margaret Devine issued a statement saying they "sympathize with the Blands," but expressed the "hope that one day Andrew may recover some of his faculties."


The right-to-die debate was fueled a year ago when a man in PVS for seven years began communicating with his wife and hospital staff, just as the regional health authority caring for him was preparing to ask for court permission to withdraw his feeding tube.


That case was followed by a paper in the British Medical Journal last July by Keith Andrews, director of the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in London, the leading facility for PVS cases, saying 17 out of 40 PVS cases sent there had been misdiagnosed.