The debate on what to do with comatose patients becomes slightly more complex, perhaps, with intriguing new findings from the New England Journal of Medicine showing that a minority of completely vegetative patients may be able to hear and respond mentally when spoken to, and may even be able to answer questions. Stories in the press include:
- “Brain Scan May Foster Communication With Vegetative Patients” from ABC News
- “Vegetative Patient Answers Yes and No Questions With His Brain” from Gizmodo.com
- “Brain Waves Allow Vegetative Patients to ‘Talk’” from Discover.com
- “Some Vegetative Patients Show Awareness” from CBC News
Do you remember the Terry Schiavo case? Perhaps a brain scan of this kind might have helped resolve a few questions – if anyone really wanted answers.
With this news from medical science, I hope some of you critics out there won’t give up on me completely. Sure, I may seem past hope, but stick me in an MRI and ask me the right questions, and maybe you’ll see a little cerebral activity after all.
Update, Feb. 5, 2010: I added the NEJM link so you can read the original study yourself. Very cool.
Additional reading to consider: “The Rom Houben Case: Doctor Explains How He Knows Patient is Conscious.” Rom Houben is the Belgian man that appeared vegetative, but was actually aware with nearly normal brain function and was able to communicate accurately using a toe. A technology known as PET revealed the nature of his brain activity. That was the same kind of test that a judge denied for Terry Schiavo, a test that might have resolved the conflicting claims about her responsiveness. See “The Schindlers Were Right to Insist on Tests for Terri.”