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Communication with 'vegetative' patients

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  • Communication with 'vegetative' patients

    Scientists have been able to reach into the mind of a brain-damaged man and communicate with his thoughts.

    The research, carried out in the UK and Belgium, involved a new brain scanning method.

    Awareness was detected in three other patients previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.

    The study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that scans can detect signs of awareness in patients thought to be closed off from the world.

    Patients in a vegetative state are awake, not in a coma, but have no awareness because of severe brain damage.

    Scanning technique

    The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which shows brain activity in real time.

    They asked patients and healthy volunteers to imagine playing tennis while they were being scanned.

    In each of the volunteers this stimulated activity in the pre-motor cortex, part of the brain which deals with movement.

    This also happened in four out of 23 of the patients presumed to be in a vegetative state.


    "We were astonished when we saw the results of the patient's scan and that he was able to correctly answer the questions that were asked by simply changing his thoughts."

    Dr Owen says this opens the way to involving such patients in their future treatment decisions: "You could ask if patients were in pain and if so prescribe painkillers and you could go on to ask them about their emotional state."

    It does raise many ethical issues - for example - it is lawful to allow patients in a permanent vegetative state to die by withdrawing all treatment, but if a patient showed they could respond it would not be, even if they made it clear that was what they wanted.

    This is awesome!

    Just because everyone does something does not mean that it is right to do.

  • #2
    Re: Communication with 'vegetative' patients

    Man, I can't wait for suicide to no longer be taboo.

    And by "can't wait", I mean I sure hope it's changed before I find myself in a situation in which I wish I could die painlessly...
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