Ben wrote:From time to time I have wondered whether it was of any benefit.
There are several reported cases of patients recovering from comas, and afterwards relating how they were aware of what was going on, but were unable to communicate. I think it was in one of Ajahn Brahmavamso's talks that I heard one such story of a Thai lady in Australia where the sons were discussing whether or not to turn sign the consent form for the doctors to turn off life support, and the patient was praying for her eldest son to say “no,” which fortunately for her, he did.
From the Buddhist POV, there is clearly more to consciousness than being ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful. The bhavanga consciousness continues throughout life even when were are fast asleep or in a coma. It begins at conception (whenever that is), and continues to arise and pass away whenever there is no conscious sense object.
Since human life is so rare and precious, IMO doctors should do whatever they can to preserve life, at times even against the will of the patient. We have all faced situations where we want to give up on some task that seems futile, but afterwards have succeeded when encouraged by others.