Mandela’s pal refutes vegetative state reports

Nelson Mandela is in critical but stable condition, the South African government said, while a close friend said the anti-apartheid leader was conscious and responsive earlier this week.

The government reiterated that Mandela is not in a vegetative state, contrary to recent court documents.

A court paper filed June 27 concerning Mandela family graves said affidavits would be provided from his physicians to show that Mandela “is in a permanent vegetative state”. A later filing dropped that phrase. Both court filings, however, said that Mandela’s breathing was machine assisted.

A close friend, Denis Goldberg, said he visited Mandela this week and he was conscious and responsive to what he was saying. Goldberg also quoted from something Mandela’s wife told him.

“There is no sign of a general organ collapse and therefore they do not recommend switching off the machine because there’s every chance that his health will improve,” Goldberg quoted wife Graca Machel as saying. “The matter has been discussed and the decision was against.”

A “persistent vegetative state” is defined as the condition of patients with severe brain damage in whom coma has progressed to a state of wakefulness without detectable awareness, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Goldberg said the legal papers that said Mandela was “vegetative” might have been written when Mandela was in a coma or unconscious, and that perhaps he then improved.

“Maybe he’s recovered a bit and that’s what I assume,” he said. “The lawyers can say what they like. I’m telling you what I saw.”

Still, Mandela’s situation is grave. Another court affidavit said “the anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds.” A South African doctor, Adri Kok, said it was unlikely that a person of Mandela’s age, 94, can be taken off mechanical ventilation and recover.

The court filing came in a case brought by 15 family members against a Mandela grandson who had moved the remains of three Mandela children from their original burial site. A court ordered the bodies to be moved back to Mandela’s hometown of Qunu.

The family feud drew a rebuke from retired archbishop Desmond Tutu who appealed to them to overcome their differences.

“Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face,” Tutu said in a statement released by his foundation. “Your anguish, now, is the nation’s anguish — and the world’s. We want to embrace you, to support you, to shine our love for Madiba through you. Please may we not besmirch his name.”


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