More than half of the 50 people in a vegetative state after a head injury died within three months to a year of discharge, found a small study at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences' (AIIMS) Trauma Centre.
Data from January till early September showed that 27 of the 50 patients, who had been recently discharged, had died, with three of them dying within three months of discharge.
AIIMS Trauma Centre gets about 700 cases of severe head injury every year. Of these cases, more than 200 people end up in a vegetative state, which means they are unconscious for all practical purposes.
Since almost all accident patients are poor, their families cannot afford to feed them the combination of protein, carbohydrate and fat needed to survive.
"The cheapest option is a mixture of a glass of milk, sugar, soybean powder and a little ghee or oil three times a day, but even that's difficult for many families, more so after the accident as the patient is often the only earner in the family," said Dr Deepak Aggarwal, associate professor, department of neurosurgery, Trauma Centre.
About 80% of them are men in the productive age group, between 17 and 40 years. One out of 20 families request doctors for mercy killing.
"In most cases, it was a conscious family decision to stop feeding the person after a while," said Dr Aggarwal.
The Trauma Centre spends Rs5,000 a day on treating patients in vegetative state, with there being at least five such patients in the hospital on any given day.
"We have a proper study planned with the Indian Council of Medical Research to know the real economic impact of maintaining such patients. They just need to be fed and cleaned, but even then, they sap human resources," said Dr MC Misra, chief, Trauma Centre.
Home medical care is expensive. "The nursing care alone costs about Rs30,000 a month, with food supplements cost up to Rs1,000 a day. Add to this, special air beds to prevent sores, regular preventive check-ups, and the bill keeps adding up," said Dr JD Mukherji, head of neurology department, Max Superspecia-lty Hospital, Saket.